Home » Forum » Author Hangout

Forum: Author Hangout

Maybe Data Dumps ARE Necessary

Crumbly Writer
Updated:

For some time, my editors keep pointing out several unaddressed issues in my stories. Typically, I have a ready answer, as those are issues I planned for when compiling the story, but which simply never found their way into the story.

However, now I'm getting several critical messages from active readers, asking the same kinds of things. The items are all good, valid points, but they (like not including honey bees on a ship traveling to distant alien worlds) were cut because they never moved the story forwards, or the rapidly unfolding dialogue between the characters ended up bypassing an appropriate opening.

In the old days (of Heinlein and Asimov) authors routinely dumped these details in the prologue, and were routinely criticized for it as their prologues ended up bloated with non-essential details that made the reading so slow, many readers gave up on reading prologues entirely.

But now, I'm rethinking my position. Since those writers didn't get such immediate feedback as I do, they likely got lambasted in published reviews for not detailing minor, obscure points, so they began dumping it all into the prologues to ensure there were few outstanding questions, and then focused on the story itself in the later chapters.

So I'm now questioning he wisdom of dropping these many points which don't advance the plot.

What do each of you think? Is it better being concise, and addressing issues only when raised? Or should we dump every questionable curios point in the prologue to keep technical questions at bay? I'm of two different minds on this at the moment because I've gotten so many (only three) in only the past couple weeks.

Replies:   sunkuwan  Switch Blayde  REP
sunkuwan

@Crumbly Writer

That's why the notion "everything that is not moving the plot forward should be cut" is such an outdated requirement from dead-tree publishing.

Although, many argue that worldbuilding is moving the plot forward and some argue that it isn't. mentioning that the settlers took honey-bees with them, is certainly world-building.

Switch Blayde

@Crumbly Writer

Don't take "If it doesn't move the plot forward or develop a character, delete it" literally.

I believe what it means is to get rid of meaningless stuff the author writes. Will the story be the same without it? If yes, it could possibly be deleted. I said "possibly." It might be description that adds to the visualization of the story.

If your honeybee issue is just a reader wondering if they brought along honeybees, it's not needed. If the lack of honeybees is important to the plot, it needs to be there.

Writing rules are principles, not rules. They are things to consider when writing and apply when appropriate. There are no black and whites in writing fiction. Well, maybe punctuation is a black and white.

Replies:   Crumbly Writer
Crumbly Writer

@Switch Blayde

If your honeybee issue is just a reader wondering if they brought along honeybees, it's not needed. If the lack of honeybees is important to the plot, it needs to be there.

No, the reason why I didn't include the honeybees was that I assumed an alien culture at least a thousand years more advanced than us, comprising thousands of different systems, would have figured out how to artificially pollinate plants in the same room. But it simply never rose to enough importance to include in the story.

I don't mind readers raising those issues. As I said, I've got the ready answers, and it IS nice being able to show off, but when I get multiple posts all dealing with similar issues, I've got to wonder whether addressing those 'non-vial' issues is important to readers, after all.

Ernest Bywater

If the fine details aren't needed for the story within the story, then have them as an addendum or extra data at the end of the story in their own chapter of tech info.

Replies:   Crumbly Writer
Crumbly Writer

@Ernest Bywater

If the fine details aren't needed for the story within the story, then have them as an addendum or extra data at the end of the story in their own chapter of tech info.

That's actually not a bad idea, as it avoids the obvious pitfalls of including a massive data dump in the very beginning of the story (when you're still trying to convince readers to read the story). Now, the only question is deciding which non-essential details make it into the appendix (I already have a character list, a bibliography, and an "Astrography" (a list of place names in a massive intergalactic emprie). Soon, the extras in the back of the book will be nearly as big as the book itself! :(

Replies:   Ernest Bywater
REP

@Crumbly Writer

To me, there are details that advance the story and then there are details that support the advancement of the story. Both are needed to some degree.

The first set of details should be included. Some of the second set should be included where necessary to prop up the first set.

The problem with the second set of details is it can be enormous in size if you were to try and address all the details that might be needed. I certainly can't think of all the details a reader might want to see (like bees) to find the plot realistic.

I would likely include most of the second set of details in the story that are necessary in an abbreviated fashion rather than do a data dump in a prologue. By the time the reader reaches the pertinent passages, they have probably forgotten what is in the prologue.

Ernest Bywater

@Crumbly Writer

Now, the only question is deciding which non-essential details make it into the appendix (I already have a character list, a bibliography, and an "Astrography" (a list of place names in a massive intergalactic emprie). Soon, the extras in the back of the book will be nearly as big as the book itself! :(


where you have a series of five or more books in the same universe you can always put out a free book with all that info as a 'Companion to the ..... universe stories.'

Replies:   Crumbly Writer
Crumbly Writer

@Ernest Bywater

where you have a series of five or more books in the same universe you can always put out a free book with all that info as a 'Companion to the ..... universe stories.'

Maybe name the Appendix in question "Pertinent Reader Questions". That would be likely to attract curious readers, who might actually get a kick out of the minor details left out of the main story.

Something to consider, at least.

Replies:   Ernest Bywater
Ernest Bywater

@Crumbly Writer



Maybe name the Appendix in question "Pertinent Reader Questions". That would be likely to attract curious readers, who might actually get a kick out of the minor details left out of the main story.

Something to consider, at least.


ayep. That's the reasoning behind my guide to the DiD universe. I was getting lots and lots of emails from readers and authors interested in writing in the universe, so i wrote, got approval for, and made the guide available to all free of charge.

Replies:   Darian Wolfe
Darian Wolfe

@Ernest Bywater

As a paying reader of a series, I would go absolutely apeshit with happiness to be able to buy a book like that that had all of the pesky details in it. I would even pay premium prices for it. Content would, of course, depend on genre. Sci-Fi would have schematics, history of some of the major inventions, Political history of the major players etc.

In the 70's and 80's there was a book series called The Destroyer. It concerned a hitman who was an Avatar of Shiva I have fifty or so of them. They came out with a book of the type we're discussing. It was a collection of legends relevant to the book, invented history, never published scenes. To a die-hard fan, it was pure gold and worth every penny.

Back to Top