Winks 7 - the Information Dump
“Lecture: a process by which the notes of the professor become the notes of the student, without passing through the minds of either”
As regular readers of my Winks will know by now, I often find ways to make life even more complicated for myself when writing my novels.
In Full Disclosure for example, I wrote a televised speech, and not just any old televised speech, but an address to the Nation to be given by the US President (see here).
In the CULL I almost wrote a book within a book.
I needed to impart a fairly large chunk of information to the reader about midway through the novel. In disparaging terms, this is usually known as an ‘information dump’. Typically writers have their characters in what I call ‘this is how I’m going to take over the world’ speech mode i.e. they suddenly decide to tell everyone the details of their super-secret plans in a half-page monologue.
Yet I had to provide my readers with crucial information about… something.
Those of you who have read my bio will have noticed that I used to be a Consultant and that part of my life included hundreds (no exaggeration) of seminars and presentations to groups ranging from two to several thousand people. So you could say I know a thing or three about public speaking and lecturing. I decided to use this to solve my problem.
I wrote a lecture as though I was giving it myself and then put the words, and some of the illustrations, into the mouth of a fictional writer.
But that was not enough…
Ever one to step off a cliff to test the height, I included in the ‘lecture’ the reading of several passages from an autobiography written in the early twentieth century by yet another fictional character, which I also had to write. However, there was a trick to this.
A friend, upon his return from a trip to Argentina, had gifted me with a copy of Colonel Percy Harrison Fawcett’s autobiography “Expedition Fawcett”. Col. Fawcett was one of the inspirations for the Indiana Jones character, so I’m told. He was despatched to South America in the early years of the twentieth century on a map-making mission. The book is fascinating and the premise interesting.
For the CULL I used the idea of the British Government sending several mapping expeditions to Bolivia, one of which is that of Phillip Maitland, my fictional explorer and autobiographer. Next came the problem of linking the expedition to the tale and the information I wished to impart in a convincing way.
Language, all over the world, evolves.
It changes through the effect of all kinds of influences. Yet in a pre-Internet time (yes, kids, this did exist – ask your Grandfather) one of the most important factors was time. In this instance, I needed to write the extracts from the autobiography using British English from the end of the nineteenth/beginning of the twentieth century. My first step was to source all kinds of literary works from that time. This included fiction and non-fiction books and periodicals. I hit pay dirt when I uncovered a superb dictionary of slang words used in the late Victorian period. I put the little grey cells to work and wrote several extracts for the autobiography.
The key was not just providing the information I wanted to include and doing this using language of the time, but to give readers a glimpse of the characters of Maitland and his sidekick Townly in a few short lines. It took a lot of effort and many retries but, as Professor ‘Iggins said, “I’ve got it. By George, I think I’ve got it!”
Someone even wrote to me asking for the ISBN of Maitland’s book so they could chase it down on Amazon! (Should I write that next?)
The devil is in the details.
That’s how you make an ‘information dump’ interesting and fun for the reader.