Monday Classroom: Why you’ses dumping information all up and down and all-over creation? Ain’t necessary.

21 May

Oh woe is us’ses but sometimes we feel the need to stuff down too much information at once, instead of gradually feeding information to our readers, or hinting, or giving them just enough so that they come to their own conclusions. We think, and I have done this, we have to tell the reader “certain thangs” or else they’ll be lost or won’t read our story because we haven’t given them “reason to—” but instead, when we dump too much on our readers, we may drive them away (meaning: put down our book – NOOOO lawdy NOOO! Woeful sobbing Noooooo’s!)

Some writers want the reader to know some “backstory” or other information that may or may not be crucial to the storyline and they shove it down the readers’ throats all at once. Ease back. It’ll all work out. Trust the process. Trust your readers. Trust yourself. Let your reader figure things out, feed them a spoonful so that they want more, and then give them just a little more.

Some writers want the reader to know how the character looks, because they know just how that character is “supposed to” look instead of letting the reader form their own images.

And please y’allses, don’t describe your character in a mirror. That’s another form of dumpity dumping information.

Can you see me? You can see enough of me.

Now, does that mean you can never ever ever never ever have your character look into a mirror and “see” her/himself? Whyses No’ses. Shoot, I have a mirror scene (or two), as in: Young Virginia Kate runs to her bedroom to fetch her camera, sees herself in the mirror, and notices her hair is messy, she has a spot of ketchup on her blouse and it reminds her of the snake’s blood (from the snake polo scene). So, she makes these observations and goes on. That’s something we’d all do, wouldn’t we? We’d pass a mirror and make an observation about ourselves, but would we describe ourselves to ourselves?–um, prolly not.

Remember I’ve said before: think about your scene in reality. What do people really do?

And lawdy be in a bucket, sometimes, to my horrorification, information dump is done in dialogue, and in such an

Objects in mirror are often described too much . . .

unnatural way, thusly:

After describing her heaving bosoms, cornflower blue eyes, pouty red-tinted lips, thick glorious hair, and determined chin in the mirror, arms akimbo, she stomped her little foot and cried to the bedroom decorated in tapestries and filmy scarves, because no one was standing there and the room was a good listener, “I am going back to the market on fifty-first street today, where I went last week to buy tomatoes for the famous homemade sauce my family has made for generations and I have made my twenty-three years I’ve been on this earth, and while there I saw that dark and dastardly street vendor Raoul and Raoul stole my broach just as it happened with my mother and her mother’s mother and her grandmother before her! I shall have vengeance on Raoul this very day or else my name isn’t Sabrinina Melissa Bambitto Deligato!”


Some writers want the reader to “see” the place/setting/room/house just as they imagined it, so they write and write and write the description to dawg-danged-old death, such as:

She then turns on her pretty little slender heels and stalks out of the bedroom, and as she huffs to her front door . . . the

lawd, I need a nap! Wearing me out with all these words!

drapes were orange-marmalade velveteen after it has set in the sun three hours, the armchairs polka-dotted except on the fringe because the fringe is solid and hung down all-fringe-like, and in the corner to the right was a purple violet vase with forget-me-nots inside with an inch of water to cover the stems and some aspirin in there to keep the flowers fresh and the flowers were bought last Tuesday and were still perky and next week she’d put red—the color of the red crayon she had as a child and it was her favorite—roses in the vase and the petals would be soft as her peachity-creamy comely skin, and in the other corner to the left, as Sabrinina Melissa Bambitto Deligato’s corn-flower blue eyed lashes swept her flushed cheeks as she further surveyed the room and saw how her lovely yellow as a egg yolk that just was cracked from the shell five minutes ago chaise longue captured her kitty cat named Mr. Furry McFurrPants, and the lady-slipper pink carpeting that crushed most charmingly and softeningly  under her tiny little feet, and the chandelier above her golden-blonde glorious hair sparked all diamondy and sparkly, and . . .

. . . and all the while, we are supposed to imagine Sabrinina Melissa Bambitto Deligato is walking through this room staring at all of this long enough for the reader to read allllll this description—so she must be walking sloooooowww moooooootion, right? Riiggghtt. Why not just give a little detail here and there that she notices as she goes through the room—maybe a favorite item that she touches or brushes her hand against, or a couple of details about the room that a person would note as they walked through it—the reader will fill in the blanks and be happy to do so, even if they don’t even realize they are filling in the blanks and instead think you are a genius at description—Haw!

Okay, while I’m at it: I’ve never used arms akimbo (other than this example :-D), but the other night I read a book and there it was. In fact, I had to look up “arms akimbo” to know what it meant. I’ll never use arms akimbo, but I suppose if you must you must. Nope, I ain’t telling you; you’ll have to look it up just as I did. *laughing oh laughing with mouth akimbo.*

Professor Dawg says, “Woof!” – that means, write it all good and all, y’allses

So, friends, what I am talking about here and digressed into my brain going akimbo is don’t take the easy or cheating or unimaginative or lazy way out and force down the throats of your readers information—instead write it to show readers in a more natural, or gradual, way, in a way that gives the reader credit for knowing or figuring out much more than we as writers think they do/can. If you need to write it all out, that’s great, as long as you delete what isn’t needed. Consider: our readers’ imaginations and thought-processes are quite intelligent. Why, sometimes they even think up better things than we could have written . . . right? Riiighht! No, really, riiighhht!

If you dump on your readers too much description, they’ses eyes might glaze over and what might they do? OH NO! They might put down the book or “skim it.” Oh, the dreaded skimming isn’t as bad as the putting down the book, but both set my wittle heart to squeezing inward with writerly angsteses. Why, I bet some of you’ses out there have skimmed this! Oh heavy Irony abounds! Haw!

I read a novel a couple of weeks ago by a well-known, well-beloved author. So imagine my surprise when she info-dumped a whole-lotta backstory into the first chapter. There was no dialogue, no moving the story along—it was as if she

la la la la I can’t hear youuu; I’m looking inside my hat – you done lost me – la la la tee dah – Yawn, whatchoo was saying? Whatever, the inside a-my hat is more innerestin

and I were sitting in a restaurant having dinner and she was filling me in on all these details to make sure “I got it—you know, got it, the stuff that happened before the stuff that’s really happening” all before she could go on to “the meat of the story.” Well, I was bored. I didn’t want to know all that backstory—I didn’t care. Because once she began writing The Story, once she just wrote what the character was up to, I forgot all that crapa-doodle-doo-doo she’d stuck in that first chapter. It’d have been so easy to take a few things from that first chapter and insert a little bit here and there to fill me in on any details. She could-a deleted most of that entire first chapter and I’d have not cared.

How do you know it’s backstory? How do you know it’s boring? How do you know it’s crapa-doodle-doo-doo? Dang—you’ll have to use your instincts on this one, folkses. If you feel you are moved to tell your readers a bunch of this’s and thatses to “catch them up” or to “make sure they know the reason for it” or “if I don’t tell them this, they may not understand what comes later,” then maybe just maybe you are dumping information in the front part of the book—then it’ll be all top heavy and end up toppley-gangly all over creation. As well, if you are bored or restless when you read it–not a good sign.

Write write write—and then make good friends with your delete key. It’s such a lovely key. People are afraid of the delete key. They think the delete key is EEEE-VILLLLE, but it isn’t! It’s our friend.

But, y’allses know what I tell you. What I preach and preach—what is most important to remember: If you convince your audience, make them believe, make them happy to be where you lead them, engage them in your character’s world, you have done your job–Period. And be-doodle-be-damned any “advice” some writer, like me or anyone else, gives you, right? Riiighhht! But consider: just consider.

So, are your arms akimbo? If so, un-akimbo them and get to work! That’s what I’ma gonna do, folkses.


14 Responses to “Monday Classroom: Why you’ses dumping information all up and down and all-over creation? Ain’t necessary.”

  1. karenselliott May 21, 2012 at 1:17 pm #

    Too many details are too confusing. Each darn color and aspect of the room and I get dismayed. Just a few pertinent hints are plenty. Same goes for characters, like 6’2″, blond hair, blues eyes. Eek! In many cases, I’d rather imagine the character or scene by just a few hints.

    • katmagendie May 21, 2012 at 1:47 pm #

      People sometimes tell me “I like how you described so and so” and really I don’t describe that much – I build on things throughout the novel, and give hints and tidbits -because that’s how my pea-headed brain sees things :-D

  2. CG Blake May 21, 2012 at 1:27 pm #

    Ah the dreaded back story. It makes me want to throw the book against the wall. And overdone character descriptions–ugh! I love you examples of how not to write a scene. And I have to own up to this; I was the one who used arms akimbo in my novel. I should have had you proofread it. Oh well. We live and learn and grow. As always thanks for an informative and engaging post.

    • katmagendie May 21, 2012 at 1:46 pm #

      It wasn’t you, CG! :-D — but if you did, I’d already forgotten it. – this was a novel written a while back, a female writer – and one who is published by New Yawk.


      I was being silly anyway — arms akimbo is an old peeve of mine that is really no longer such a peeve — I mean, we have to be akimbo sometimes, don’t we? :-D

  3. Sharla Lovelace May 21, 2012 at 2:22 pm #

    O.M.G. Kat I actually just laughed so hard through your descriptions, tears were rolling. Those were the BEST!! I’m sharing this, it is too too too good.

    I think those info dump things are something every writer does in the beginning, and hopefully learns to dial back over time.

    I like things being revealed to me a little at a time, that’s part of the magic of reading a story. And as for my characters, I try to do it in subtle ways, like mentioning that the woman’s face is nestled into her man’s neck when he holds her. That says he’s about a head taller. I’ll mention pulling a hair clip down and curls falling around. I once described a woman looking into her teenage daughter’s blue eyes, that were so much like her own, it was spooky. That told the woman’s eye color as well. I do provide hair and eyes, because I think that rolls in with their personality somehow. :) Great post, Kat!!!

    • katmagendie May 21, 2012 at 2:50 pm #

      teehehehe :-D

      Lawd, if people could see what was almost Sweetie, they’d shake their heads and point their finger at me and say “nya nya – you put boring shit in here!* laughing

  4. vaughnroycroft May 21, 2012 at 2:51 pm #

    I used to love that cartoon. You know, Akimbo the White Lion.

    This post, particularly the back story stuff, is like having Dairy Queen Blizzard on the way home from the dentist after a root canal. Pain and brain freeze, all at once. Going into another revision to chop at the early chapters makes it just too fresh (and icy cold) for my tender self-confidence to process. ;-)

    Great reminders, as always (and I didn’t skim, but the irony of it made me laugh).

    • katmagendie May 21, 2012 at 2:55 pm #

      Omg – that made me laugh at the white lion —

      (and not at you CG down there -once again, your book was so beautifully written, it can hold up to an akimbo or two! — and I mean that respectfully and seriously! – )

      Dang Vaughn, now I want a Blizzard! ungh dang you

  5. roughwighting1 May 21, 2012 at 6:39 pm #

    Excellent advice!

  6. Patricia Tilton May 22, 2012 at 12:07 am #

    Great post. Loved you thoughts and comments. Couldn’t agree more.

    • katmagendie May 22, 2012 at 7:43 am #

      Thank you for stopping by, Patricia!

  7. Heather Marsten May 25, 2012 at 6:02 am #

    Wonderful post – loved the examples. I think I may err on the other side – not enough description. My WIP is a memoir in first person – very hard to insert too much scene or self-description, especially when I’m seven in the opening scene. I am improving, but so much to learn.

    • katmagendie May 25, 2012 at 7:16 am #

      Sometimes simple is best – especially when writing ‘through the eyes of a child’ . . . not that we “dumb it down” because children are wise, but they can see the world in unique and amazing ways, so there’s other things we can do/cite/write in a child’s pov!

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