NaNoWriMo: Infodumping, lies, and Spam. The Smeat.

Alrighty. So I won’t make it to the magical 50k number. That’s the bad news (I guess). The good news is I’ve found something far more helpful to me in this November process. It’s forced me to rethink everything I know about writing, about what people say is “infodump,” and why so much of my time following well-meaning advice from unpublisheds (yeah. I just made that up) and agents has put me back three years.

“Three years? Surely you jest!” Well, British-accented Everyman, in one area, at least, I’ve been forced to return to my roots, before I went on a pilgrimage into the world of online writing sites, blogs, etc.

I realized something separates me from my favorite writers, from the classics like Poe and Dickens and all those superbeasts of writing. And what, pray tell? The terrible, horrible, incorrigible Infodump Syndrome. For three years now I’ve dedicated a healthy effort toward erasing everything that didn’t pertain to the story, distilling the words down to basic action, invention, and a resounding grasp of the “now” of the story. Characters’ history showed up when needed and ONLY when needed, I describe scenery only when scenery became important to the story (and ONLY when it became important), and essentially created a Haiku-style writing I thought was my ticket to publication.

Well. I’ve done some studying, both of “historical fiction” for my NaNo novel, my old works (specifically, an infoheavy novel I wrote 3 years ago, almost to the month, complete with so much worldbuilding there’s more addendums and appendixes than actual novel), and out-of-the-box modern writers. What did I find? That novel I wrote three years ago walked down the right path. It was complex, violent, compelling, and saturated with info. The storyline, unlike most of my work, was excruciatingly simple while the characters’ thoughts, history and background, and religious context overwhelmed the page. Infodumping? Hell yes. Boring infodumping? Hell no.

Everything I’ve written since then has lacked the intellectual spark I so crave in my preferred reading. Dan Simmons, my touted favorite author Ever Ever, creates an intellectual soup from which both the character and the reader share. Like some primordial mud bath with Jacuzzi jets, it is inundation between the internal and external. And on top of all this, he simply rolls with the story. I’m not talking about a ten-page stint on a character’s favorite cat. I’m talking about a ten-page stint on a character’s favorite cat breed.

I’m almost disgusted with myself. Yes, I came down with diabetes two years ago and that screwed up all sorts of brain chemistry, creative output, etc., but having to rediscover my writing is painfully arduous. I find myself taking the “easy” route of injecting fantasy elements to the story instead of fleshing the characters out, instead choosing to conflagrate the plot to force the character into action than allowing the character any self. It’s total crap, annoying, and destructive of any serious writer.

Toni Morrison does this. She develops incredible metaphors through her writing (some of her writing, I should correct. She has a new book out. I might buy it), reinforcing action and history to flesh people out–history that ISN’T NEEDED for the plot, but needed for the reader to understand a place. Infodumping for the sake of fleshing a character is perfectly acceptable. A tedious, introverted scientific type might just infodump forever if he’s allowed to, and for the sake of the story, it’s worth it. Even if it annoys you to read.

Pace pace pace. I hoped to find a simplified form of my writing by blindly following critiques and observable advice. I hoped to find insight through carpeting comments from an agent on her blog: avoid passive tense, avoid infodumping, tell the story and ignore the rest. No.

No. Pace is key. Always, pace is key.

I’m reading House of Leaves. In the first three chapters it has served to deconstruct the novel, deconstruct the purpose of reader, narrator, and plot, and turned all the writing rules on their collective heads. If a character rambles on in his head about God-knows-what, let him ramble. Ramble forever. Let him fall down mental holes and climb spiraling mental staircases. You can remove some when the novel is finished, if some is unneeded. But for the love of everything valued, let the characters talk. Let the narrator talk.

Okay. I don’t consider any advice given as “lies,” specifically. I consider them helpful advice, and beneficial as a guideline. CritiqueCircle.com, a place I used to get critiques for my work, is a great starting point. Yet the greatest critiquers I found there were those that bypassed all the, “Avoid passive verb use. Don’t start a sentence with And, Or, But, Yet. Does this introduction serve a purpose?” comments and assumed, for a moment, I knew what I wanted in the writing and that I had a purpose for four paragraphs of cat breeding.

I don’t read a novel going, “Does this chapter serve a purpose?” (well, on very rare occasions, I start to sour on a novel. Stardust by Neil Gaiman for one. I tried rereading it two weeks ago, as an example of “distilled writing,” and I couldn’t get through it. Even half of it.) I read a novel going, “Is this pace right for me? Furthermore, is it right for the characters? Is it proper for the plot? Does this movement move me?”

So my Soren novels, my Red Wing Black novel, and this NaNovel must change. I realized David and His Shade, my Modern Fantasy, actually has all the info it needs. As a YA novel, it doesn’t need that much. Yet. Book four or five, on the other hand, will be inundated and saturated. Because that’s what it needs to be great.

Finally, I ate spam for the first time. It smelled exactly how I expected: rotting ham. It tasted like heaven due to the grease. Damned grease, making everything taste better.

I will never eat it again, if I can help it.

~x

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