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A prime example for a totally worthless info-dump

robberhands

Jabbit sat on a fallen tree close to the edge of a canyon. He looked down into a large manmade crater. The crater was an old exhausted sandstone quarry.

These were the last three useful sentences before I drifted off, fantasizing about a totally useless history:

The fallen tree he sat on once had been a fertile olive tree but the removal of the sandstone by the quarrymen caused a minor landslide and the roots of the olive tree lost their hold in the soil. That had happened more than a century ago. The once fertile tree was long dead. No one had taken the tree trunk away nor did the wood rot. Even after more than a hundred years had passed, the fallen tree wasn't even brittle; just lying around and doing nothing. Until this day. On this day, the long past fallen olive tree had been chosen by Jabbit to sit on it. Nothing which mattered to anyone or anything, other than the dead tree, of course.

I guess it'll also count as a darling. A darling I won't kill.

sunkuwan

But is it worthless? The text suggests that something of importance happens there and the infodump explains while the tree is there, why it has not rotted or taken away.

AmigaClone

The usefulness of an infodump depends a lot on the context. The example you gave can would be useless in a long story that has only scene involving that particular tree trunk. I can also see it being a source of one of the sub plots in a different story.

Replies:   Not_a_ID
Ross at Play

@robberhands

I guess it'll also count as a darling. A darling I won't kill.

The question for whether an author should "Kill their darlings" - as that quote was originally intended - depends on whether a section of writing is consistent with your usual style. I would classify everything after the first three sentences as "superfluous decoration". I see no problem at all if your usual style is to include a lot such descriptions.

I do think, however, that section would be significantly improved by making it significantly shorter - without the loss of any meaning. If you ask, I'll tell you how I would "fix" it.

A couple of trivial points:

My first reaction to 'manmade' was that it should be 'man-made'. I looked up my OxD and it agreed. Note that it defines 'man-made' as an adjective, i.e. it should be hyphenated in all positions, not just before nouns.

I would change 'long past fallen' to 'long ago fallen'. 'Fallen' is a past participle functioning as an adjective. In truth, I've never seen this written anywhere, but it feels to me like it retains enough of its original nature as a verb form that it should be modified by an adverb, 'ago', rather than an adjective, 'past' (which, BTW, is an adjective because it is the past participle of 'to pass'). I'm not sure why, but my ear rebels at the word 'past' there.

Dominions Son
Updated:

@Ross at Play


My first reaction to 'manmade' was that it should be 'man-made'.


I would get rid of manmade completely.

Not every hole in the ground is a crater. To me the term crater implies sudden and violent creation, a large violent impact or explosion.

I would reduce it to: He looked down into an old exhausted sandstone quarry.

Once crater has been eliminated and quarry specified immediately, man-made becomes redundant.

Replies:   robberhands
robberhands
Updated:

@Ross at Play

I do think, however, that section would be significantly improved by making it significantly shorter - without the loss of any meaning. If you ask, I'll tell you how I would "fix" it.

I don't think shortening the passage would improve it. From an informational point of view the scene is superfluous and I wouldn't just shorten something redundant, I'd scratch it completely. It isn't for any kind of informational reasosns I want to keep the passage, though. It's my kind of humor.

The passage didn't pass my editor yet, so there is no need to discuss grammar or specific word choices.

Ernest Bywater

Depending on what you're trying to do in the second quote you also have options of rewriting it to use fewer words to send the same message. But that's another issue.

Ross at Play
Updated:

@robberhands

It isn't for any kind of informational reasons I want to keep the passage, though. It's my kind of humor.

Which I why I said "no problem" keeping the passage.

When I suggested shortening, I said "without any loss of meaning". I did not mean attempt to eliminate redundancies. I only meant rewording the way the ideas you have now are expressed.

EDIT TO ADD:
I meant precisely what EB just said.

Replies:   robberhands
robberhands

@Dominions Son

I would reduce it to: He looked down into an old exhausted sandstone quarry.

Yup, I'll do that. It's not the part I displayed in regards to the OP, though.

Replies:   Ross at Play
robberhands

@Ross at Play

I'm forcing the reader to read long and wordy passage without any further importance to the story. The fate of the tree is what you would suspect it to be - nothing worth mentioning. That is my humor. Shortening the passage would lessen the impact.

Before anyone accuses me of abusing my readers' trust; I wouldn't do something like that a second time...at least not within one story. These bastards would simply skip it then.

Ross at Play

@robberhands

Yup, I'll do that. It's not the part I displayed in regards to the OP, though.

I came back here to comment that what DS said was correct.
The first sentences have three words with the same meaning, canyon, crater, and quarry.
One of the first two should be eliminated, then having both 'quarry' and 'man-made' is redundant.

Replies:   robberhands
robberhands

@Ross at Play

I came back here to comment that what DS said was correct.

Too late, Bruce. I choose DS for useful pre-editorial corrections.

Ross at Play

@robberhands

That is my humor. Shortening the passage would lessen the impact.

I recall making that exact same explanation here about a passage I had written. Nobody "got" it.
The lesson I learned was not to stop writing such stuff ... but to stop posting it here. :-)

robberhands

@Ross at Play

The lesson I learned was not to stop writing such stuff ... but to stop posting it here. :-)

Bah, I remember it was CW who complaint about your joke. I hope you're too smart to take anything serious CW has to say about humor.

Replies:   Ross at Play
Ross at Play

@robberhands

I hope you're too smart to take anything serious CW has to say about humor.

He wasn't the only one who had unkind things to say.
I take CW's comments on most things here very seriously - but never about humour.

richardshagrin

@robberhands

shortening the passage

Would make it greasier. With an oily coating it might go down easier. If it isn't too anal.

Replies:   robberhands
robberhands

@richardshagrin

Would make it greasier. With an oily coating it might go down easier. If it isn't too anal.

I should probably bow to your superior knowledge in this regards but I'll ignore it this time.

Switch Blayde

@robberhands

I don't know. I believe that's common in fantasy. It's kind of cute.

This tree was killed by man's violation of nature. It was totally forgotten — useless. Until the character decided to sit on it.

Replies:   robberhands
Ross at Play

@robberhands

It isn't for any kind of informational reasons I want to keep the passage, though. It's my kind of humor.

The main thing that bothers me about that passage is number of times the word 'tree' and adjectives associated with it were repeated.
In only 152 words, 'tree' was used 9 times. 'Fallen', 'olive', 'dead', and 'fertile' were all repeated too.
I do not object in principle to a lengthy superfluous passage. It's avoidable repetitions of major words that is a red flag to me. I'd definitely want to replace at least some of those words with simple pronouns. I don't think doing that would reduce the impact you're trying to create.

Replies:   robberhands
robberhands

@Ross at Play

I posted this after I wrote it. I was taking a break and thought it could be interesting to talk about reasons to keep all kinds of info-dumps.

You're a terrier locking his jaws into insignificant word choices and grammatical mistakes.

I don't care about such things before my editor viewed the text and before that'll hapen, I'll have changed the passage several times on my own.

Replies:   Ross at Play
Ross at Play

@robberhands

You're a terrier locking his jaws into insignificant word choices and grammatical mistakes.

I mentioned two such things, in passing, and described them 'trivial'.

thought it could be interesting to talk about reasons to keep all kinds of info-dumps.

I did too. And I was supportive of a lengthy superfluous passage being a legitimate style choice.

You said this was just a first draft. Fair enough. I mentioned one thing I saw that I would consider a major problem if an author was doing it consistently. I think that passage would be improved by finding some number of places to replace noun phrases with pronouns. You may call that a matter of "word choices" and you may have got there soon enough. I would consider it more a matter of the way someone goes about the process of writing. But I do not wish to argue. If you don't agree with me there are undoubtedly many who very much enjoy the writing style of your final versions.

Replies:   robberhands  robberhands
robberhands

@Ross at Play

If you don't agree with me there are undoubtedly many who very much enjoy the writing style of your final versions.

I fully agree but to receive suggestion how to improve the passage I posted wasn't my reason to open this thread.

The passage didn't pass my editor yet, so there is no need to discuss grammar or specific word choices.

That's a quote from my second post but regardless, it's pretty much all which we discuss. It's the repeating theme of 95% of all threads on this forum.

robberhands

@Switch Blayde

I don't know. I believe that's common in fantasy. It's kind of cute.

This tree was killed by man's violation of nature. It was totally forgotten — useless. Until the character decided to sit on it.

Yes, it reads like that.

Nothing which mattered to anyone or anything, other than the dead tree, of course.

The last sentence regards the story, the story characters, the author, and the readers - everyone. It's the punch line.

Replies:   Crumbly Writer
awnlee jawking

@robberhands

You're absolutely correct - the word 'worth' is entirely absent from that passage so it is indeed worthless.

AJ

Replies:   Crumbly Writer
Not_a_ID
Updated:

@AmigaClone


The usefulness of an infodump depends a lot on the context. The example you gave can would be useless in a long story that has only scene involving that particular tree trunk. I can also see it being a source of one of the sub plots in a different story.


One that has been driving me batty with some self-published authors lately has been their tendency to info-dump the same thing on me(the reader) multiple times within the same book. I don't need to hear the history of the fallen olive tree on 4+ different occasions. (Almost every time a major character encounters it)

That there is no way to contact the author, except via (public) product reviews just makes it more of an annoyance.

Replies:   robberhands
robberhands

@Not_a_ID

I don't need to hear the history of the fallen olive tree on 4+ different occasions.

I can assure you it's the first time the olive tree will be mentioned and it's also the last time.

Yes, it's a fantasy story but without any elves or fairies dancing in a forest clearing under a clear starry night sky. No one acting in this story gives a flying fuck about the fate of a tree.

Replies:   graybyrd
robberhands

@Ross at Play

Here is my current version of the passage I previously posted. I hope you'll notice I listen, even when I don't want to listen.

Jabbit sat on a fallen tree close to the edge of a canyon. He looked down into an old exhausted sandstone quarry.

The trunk he sat on once had been a fertile olive tree but the removal of the sandstone by the quarrymen caused a minor landslide and his roots lost their hold in the soil. That happened more than a century ago. The once fertile tree was long dead. No one had taken him away nor did he rot. Even after more than a hundred years had passed, he wasn't even brittle; just lying around and doing nothing. Until this day. On this day, the long past fallen olive tree had been chosen by Jabbit to sit on. Nothing which mattered to anyone or anything, other than the dead tree, of course.

It still hasn't passed my editor, though.

Replies:   Ross at Play
graybyrd

@robberhands

Sing a song of termites, scrambling in the dust, mandibles a'clacking, hordes of them attacking, the tree consumed in lust.

See the committee birth a camel anew; no horse produced in the tumultuous hue. So cry. Sine die.

Replies:   robberhands
Ross at Play

@robberhands

I hope you'll notice I listen, even when I don't want to listen.

You've already found most of the changes I would raise as an editor for consideration by the author.

I do like the personification of the tree.

Is it too presumptuous to suggest that making that work requires 'The trunk he sat on ...' to be changed to 'The trunk Jabbit sat on ...'?

Replies:   robberhands
robberhands
Updated:

@graybyrd

You never have been young
You never have been sane
And if you say that you don't care,
In your eyes I see the shame
Looking through the window of your mind
I see your lonely shadow running out of time

Termite Song lyrics by Joseph Arthur.

Replies:   graybyrd
graybyrd
Updated:

@robberhands

Running out of time
Running out of time
When I drive
When I drive around the bend
Singing bye bye bye bye...


Rode a runaway horse once.
Never got spit on by a camel.
Rather do either of those again
than submit myself to a committee.

robberhands

@Ross at Play

Is it too presumptuous to suggest that making that work requires 'The trunk he sat on ...' to be changed to 'The trunk Jabbit sat on ...'?

Done. Your obstinate presumptuousness wins the day once more.

Replies:   Ross at Play
Ross at Play

@robberhands

Your obstinate presumptuousness wins the day once more.

This little exchange has done one thing for me. It's kind of restored my faith that readers here can recognise, and will reward, stories that are well-written as well as interesting. :-)

Replies:   robberhands
robberhands

@Ross at Play

This little exchange has done one thing for me. It's kind of restored my faith that readers here can recognise, and will reward, stories that are well-written as well as interesting. :-)

Three hurrahs for all the obstinate and presumptuous readers.

Replies:   Ross at Play
Ross at Play

@robberhands

Three hurrahs for all the obstinate and presumptuous readers.

I'll grant you this, you know the first rule about telling a good joke: save the kick in the head until the final word. :-)

Crumbly Writer

@robberhands

Before anyone accuses me of abusing my readers' trust; I wouldn't do something like that a second time...at least not within one story. These bastards would simply skip it then.

The key is, your opening passages are the most vital to the entire story. If it doesn't represent your best work, readers might not bother with the rest of the story.

If you want longer, reflective passages, I'd introduce them later, when you can relate what the passages mean to the character. Expecting readers who don't know you to respect your particular sense of humor is expecting a lot.

If you think the passage necessary, then I'd suggest breaking it up, so you only hit the reader with a few lines at a time, mixed with other, more vital information.

Replies:   robberhands
Crumbly Writer

@Ross at Play

I recall making that exact same explanation here about a passage I had written. Nobody "got" it.
The lesson I learned was not to stop writing such stuff ... but to stop posting it here.

There's nothing long with beautiful, reflecting or insightful passages reflecting the mindset of the character, but you've got to be careful where you place them, realizing they're likely to bore readers looking either for something exciting, or deciding whether they're interested in your story or not. As such, I'd urge both of you to limit and time the passages. You want readers to recognize your style of writing, but you don't want to overwhelm them right from the get-go (says he who traditionally starts stories incredibly slowly).

Crumbly Writer

@robberhands

Nothing which mattered to anyone or anything, other than the dead tree, of course.

The last sentence regards the story, the story characters, the author, and the readers - everyone. It's the punch line.

All my cautions aside, if you're doing to be interjecting this kind of humor into your stories, you want to expose readers to it early so they can adjust to it. Again, my main caution isn't including these passages, it's managing them properly.

A classic example is showing a character enjoying and soaking up nature, simply relaxing with no expectations. That establishes that the character is into communing with nature, is relaxed and enjoys time to himself. If you then counter that during the course of the story as he devolved, growing increasingly angry at how unfair life is, it'll provide a striking contrast to his basic nature, as is an essential part of the overall plot. (Not that that's your intent, of course.)

Crumbly Writer

@awnlee jawking

You're absolutely correct - the word 'worth' is entirely absent from that passage so it is indeed worthless.

It's also toothless and bootyless. 'D

robberhands

@Crumbly Writer

The key is, your opening passages are the most vital to the entire story. If it doesn't represent your best work, readers might not bother with the rest of the story.

If you want longer, reflective passages, I'd introduce them later, when you can relate what the passages mean to the character. Expecting readers who don't know you to respect your particular sense of humor is expecting a lot.

Where did you read anything about 'opening passages'? The scene discussed here belongs to my current story. 30 chapters with more than 100k words submitted so far and the scene is a part of a future chapter.

If you think the passage necessary, then I'd suggest breaking it up, so you only hit the reader with a few lines at a time, mixed with other, more vital information.

In a previous post I clearly stated the scene is not necessary at all. The passage is a joke. Do you think 'breaking up a joke, to only hit the reader with a few lines at a time, mixed with other, more vital information' is a good idea?

A classic example is showing a character enjoying and soaking up nature, simply relaxing with no expectations. That establishes that the character is into communing with nature, is relaxed and enjoys time to himself. If you then counter that during the course of the story as he devolved, growing increasingly angry at how unfair life is, it'll provide a striking contrast to his basic nature, as is an essential part of the overall plot. (Not that that's your intent, of course.)

In a previous post of this thread I stated:

'No one acting in this story gives a flying fuck about the fate of a tree.'

Seriously CW, I'd appreciate your courtesy to actually read the things you cite and comment.

Replies:   awnlee jawking
awnlee jawking

@robberhands

'No one acting in this story gives a flying fuck about the fate of a tree.'


Something concerns me about Jabbit's powers. Sometimes he doesn't seem to think he has any, and the miraculous events can all be explained by extraordinary coincidences. Other times he seems to have very active powers eg he can heal himself and reanimate the dead to create his patchwork army. If there was a clear transition from 'not yet a god' to 'god' in the story, I must have missed it.

Your anecdote about the tree fits with the first scenario. Jabbit may not give a flying fuck about the tree, but some unearthly power of coincidence arranged for it to be in the right place at the right time.

You could axe the passage from the story and nobody would care, or leave it to add a touch of colour. Your choice.

AJ

Replies:   robberhands
robberhands

@awnlee jawking

If there was a clear transition from 'not yet a god' to 'god' in the story, I must have missed it.

How would the transition to become a god look like to you ... to me ... to the pope ... or to Jabbit?

What is a god? Someone with unusual powers? Someone who people believe to be a god? Or someone who himself believes to be a god?

In other words - no, there wasn't a clear transition you missed.

Replies:   awnlee jawking
awnlee jawking

@robberhands

How would the transition to become a god look like to you ... to me ... to the pope ... or to Jabbit?


I would have expected Jabbit to have some kind of 'Aha!' moment, when he realised he could actively influence events.

AJ

Replies:   robberhands
robberhands

@awnlee jawking

I would have expected Jabbit to have some kind of 'Aha!' moment, when he realised he could actively influence events.

The pivotal event marking Jabbit's ascendance to a god (in his point of view) is a central theme of the story. I don't believe you missed it; more likely, you just don't share his opinion.

can58car

I always associated infodump with people talking about conflicts that happened a thousand years ago for no reason. This read like a subtle hint of Jabbit's power. That simply by sitting on the tree he could know so much about it.

Replies:   Switch Blayde
Switch Blayde

@can58car

I always associated infodump with people talking about conflicts that happened a thousand years ago for no reason.


An infodump is the ultimate "telling" (show don't tell) and often author intrusion. It simply tells the reader all kinds of information the author knows and wants the reader to know. In one big load. Dumps it on the reader.

Replies:   Crumbly Writer
Crumbly Writer

@Switch Blayde

An infodump is the ultimate "telling" (show don't tell) and often author intrusion. It simply tells the reader all kinds of information the author knows and wants the reader to know. In one big load. Dumps it on the reader.

As such, the main objections with them is the extent to which they're used. "Telling" is a valid story telling technique, but if all you do is tell, it becomes 'telling' (i.e. points out that you don't know any other literary techniques).

Telling is fine, as long as you only use it a little at a time to hurry the story along over unimportant passages. Info-dumps stick out like sore thumbs simply because of their sheer size (sometimes entire chapters, where the story doesn't advance at all and readers are left scratching their heads about how it relates to the story, or why they should care).

The fact they're often found in the very first chapter makes them even more obnoxious. The readers are ready to find out about the story and to fall in love with the characters, and instead they're told about something that happened to people they've never heard of hundreds or thousands of years in the past. BORING!

There are many better ways of conveying the same information, and better ways of ripping unimportant information out of a story!

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