Showing posts with label TV Tropes. Show all posts
Showing posts with label TV Tropes. Show all posts

19 April 2023

A Fine Trip to the Dump

 Do you know Thomas Perry?  He writes mostly  thrillers, and one critic described his work as "competence porn," meaning that we follow in great detail as a single man or woman outsmarts and when necessary outfights a whole regiment of villains.

I'm currently reading his newest title Murder Book and I want to discuss one scene.  It consists of a bad guy on the phone with his boss, the even worse guy.

Bad Guy fills Boss in on what's been going on and in the course of doing so he explains part of the conspiracy in which they are engaged.  Boss Man gets irritated.

 "We know." the man said. "Remember the reason you're good at the details.  You're a realtor, not a gangster.  To hear you use slang like you were a Mafia boss  from yesteryear I only feel weary despair."

My reaction to that was: Ooh.  Nice expository dump.

The expository dump, alias info dump, is a problem that most fiction writers face sooner or later.  In short, you need to explain some piece of backstory or plot to the readers without boring them to death.  

The dump is sometimes known as the "As You Know, Bob" speech.  As in:

"As you know, Bob, as accountants you and I are legally required to blah blah blah..."

Why is our character telling Bob something he clearly already knows?  Because the reader doesn't know it.

But here's why I so admired Perry's way of dealing with the problem.  The Bad Guy is actually attempting to flimflam the Boss, avoiding admitting that things have gone badly (because of the actions of the competence porn star who is the book's protagonist).  He is using this extraneous information  as a smoke screen.

In other words, the info dump has become an important element of the drama.  Now, that's clever.

And by the way, the Boss's reply, quoted above, is an example of a different writerly technique: lampshade hanging.  That is: Perry is smoothing over the rough spot by (paradoxically) calling it to the reader's attention.

I had a bit of an info dump problem in  story I just sold to Alfred Hitchcock's Mystery Magazine.  My Delgardo tales are set in 1958 and I had found a really cool historic fact from that time I wanted to slip in.  

How do I include it without making it look like I'm showing off my research?  I turned it into a vital clue, which only my clever beat poet detective would recognize.  Seems to have worked.

By the way, I went to the ever-helpful website TV Tropes to see what they had to say about the info dump and they parsed it several different ways:

Infodump: A particularly long and wordy bit of exposition.

Mr. Exposition.  A character whose only purpose is to provide the info.

Exposition Fairy.  A recurring character whose job is always to, well, you know.

Exposition Already Covered.  "You must find the Sacred Kumquat.  If you fail--" "The world will end.  Yeah, I get it."  

Exposition Cut.  "Well, that's a long story..."  "Gosh," the newcomer said, after hours of discussion we won't bore you with.  "It certainly was."

So, how do you deal with trips to the dump?  And which ones bother you the most?