Two months ago, I had an idea for a podcast. To encourage people who used to write, who had a novel or a story or script to pick them back up.
I’m that person. I’m going back to old National Novel Writing Month projects from over a decade or more. I’m starting again.
For example, I started a novel in 2009. A key location in the novel was at that time, an old abandoned shopping mall that was being torn down. Ten years later, that site is now the largest grocery store in the county. I had to rewrite to make this location work in my head for the revisions.
Revisions are fun. At least, I think so. I enjoy the whole B not A or what about Plan M? redirection of the story. But they do take me down the rabbit holes of research.
Today on Writing Again Podcast, I’ll tell you about my writing in the past two months, and why it happened, and what I might try to do to stop it from happening again.
Did you start writing a book, a story, or a script long ago and put it away? Is it time for you to pull it out again and start writing again?
My name is Kim Krajci. I’ve been a story writer as long as I can remember. This year, I want to take it to the next level. I want to publish a book! Join me as we take a look at writing again.
In January, I was challenged to write down 3 goals for the year. By the end of March, I’d already achieved two of them. But the third… publishing a book on Kindle… was not something I knew much about. I had to do some research.
And then… I was down the rabbit hole. Do you know how much is out there about publishing on Kindle?
Wow. I didn’t expect that at all. And the contradictions! I ended up spending weeks reading about publishing on Kindle!
I don’t want to talk about Kindle publishing today. I want to talk about how to control the dive into research.
Here’s my problem. I enjoy reading the details. I’ll start with Wikipedia (yes, I know, it’s not a legit source, I shouldn’t rely on it. I teach debate. I know the rules about wiki. But it’s an ideal spot to get the keywords to research. The links at the bottom of the wiki page have led me on a merry chase!)
How do we avoid spending too much time in a rabbit hole? Especially for a novel, I think rabbit holes are fascinating. I’m very likely to find something that will make an impact on my story. So how can I control it?
I think there are two variables that I use.
Last night, I wrote a scene introducing a new character. My main character, Roxie, assumes that he’s a plumber. She tells him that he’s here to replace her garbage disposal. Yes, it’s kinda a “meet cute.”
My family members and I have replaced several garbage disposals in our day. My teenage son did the last one several years ago, almost entirely by himself. So I know that a person can do this without being a plumber, but what I needed to know was “what tools do you need?” “how much does a garbage disposal weigh?” and “would a seven-year-old boy be a help in the process?”
In this case, I had three specific questions. Now, my inclination is to go to Amazon and look up the weight, watch a video about how to install a disposal, and assume that no boy is going to be much help.
Four minutes tops. I can use a timer and stop myself when I know I’ve got enough information. But what if I need something that I don’t have any experience with? I give myself more time. Legend about the california gold rush, Daniel Brown, grave.
I have to tell myself that just because I’m curious about a topic, doesn’t mean that my reader will be. And sometimes the research gives me too much. Now I feel cheated if I don’t put it all in!
If I’m writing a series of novels about a woman who specializes in getting revenge, does my audience need to know that a particular brand of garbage disposal gets horrible reviews? I may need to know that, the readers do not. Even if that’s a plot point later, I’m not going to name a brand. That would be stupid. It’s asking to get a cease and desist letter sent on a lawyer’s letterhead.
I want my text to feel authentic. But I don’t want to bore my reader. So I have to avoid the info dump - which is the natural result of too much research.
“As you know, Bob,” Look it up. I’ve heard this phrase over and over in the writing field. I’m not sure where it started and I’m not going to go do that research because that’s way too fun a rabbit hole to jump into.
As you know, Bob, is the shorthand for an info dump. Back when I was reading classic science fiction, I saw this often. The writer felt the need to give the reader some critical background but couldn’t be bothered with finding a good way to give it. Having one character tell another is convenient. Fast.
But have you ever in your life said “As you know, Bob?” No, you haven’t. It’s a completely artificial construct. No one in real life has ever said that. Which is why it’s such a tell that the author is cheating.
There may be information that the readers need. If you’re writing a series, it’s tempting to resort to this sort of technique. I know that I’ve done it at least four times in the sequel I’m writing right now. I have to delete. I keep making this mistake and maybe… just maybe… I noticed before I got into the second sentence. Or the third. At least it wasn’t 100 words that I deleted this evening.
Info dumps aren’t just in the “As You Know Bob” category. It’s so tempting to put in a wall of text to make sure that the reader knows everything right away.
Info dumps are the exact opposite of creating mystery. They’re the slog, aren’t they? Doesn’t that wall of text make you want to skip ahead? Or give up on a novel altogether?
There’s a very popular writer who I believe uses cut and paste for her novels. Everytime a particular character was reintroduced, we got a word-for-word description of her. Instead of developing this character, we get repetitions. In less than 20 words, it becomes an info dump. A mystery killing info dump.
If the reader gets everything right away, why do they need to read what we’ve written?
Keep the mystery. Keep it going. The books we can’t put down aren’t because they’ve spelled it all out for us. The author is holding something back and we, as readers, want to know.
I’m telling this to myself as much as I’m encouraging you to look at your old manuscripts for the info dumps. The places where you spoil the mystery. Maybe that’s why you gave up writing - because you were bored. Edit out those info dumps! Create mystery, not misery for your readers.
Putting our characters in danger is good. Putting our info dumps, our discussions with Bob, and cut and paste writing is not.
The following music was used for this media project:
Music: Adventures In Adventureland by Kevin MacLeod
Free download: https://filmmusic.io/song/8287-adventures-in-adventureland
License (CC BY 4.0): https://filmmusic.io/standard-license
Artist website: https://incompetech.com
I need to get back to my story. How about you?
See you behind the keys on Writing again. You can find the podcast with the links at writingagain.life.
See you behind the keyboard