Don’t write for dead people

By that I mean, don’t write info-dumps.

If you want to write fiction (and I know some of you do), you want to avoid information dumps. These are defined in the Turkey City Lexicon as: Large chunk of indigestible expository matter intended to explain the background situation. Info-dumps can be covert, as in fake newspaper or “Encyclopedia Galactica” articles, or overt, in which all action stops as the author assumes center stage and lectures. Info-dumps are also known as “expository lumps.”

For me, it helps to think of info-dumps in science fiction as writing for dead people. Often, science fiction is set in wondrous futures. Being compassionate authors, we don’t want our readers to get confused about these lovingly constructed settings (or alternate histories or fantasy worlds). So, we want to explain.

However, among the many ways to think about writing, we can consider science fiction as literature written for the people of its time and place. That means a short story set in the year 2200 is for readers in 2200.

If I set a story in 2023 — that is, in the present — I don’t need to explain a revolving door to readers. If you’ve never used one, you’ve probably seen one in movies or TV, so you understand the technology. If I write a scene about bored children playing with a revolving door (as a former child, I can attest to their entertainment value), I can simply show the rambunctious kiddos and the reactions from adults.

In the year 2200, bored children might get their hands on an invisibility suit. Alas, I’ll be dead in 2200 (you’ll be dead, too). If I pause the story to explain to you how the suit works because it’s made from a metamaterial that can alter how light bends and thus alter the movement of light throughout various parts of the material, then I’m writing for dead people: you will be dead. But, if I focus on what the children do with the suit, I can show you how the suit works.

It’s easier to write an info-dump than a fully realized scene or two, so to overcome my own laziness, I need to remember that the reader of the story lives in the future. In fact, in the future, you might own one of those suits and know all about it. Do you keep it in kid-proof storage?

(By the way, if you want to write a story about bored children who play with an invisibility suit, remember that ideas cannot be copyrighted, so you’re good to go. Have fun!)

One thought on “Don’t write for dead people

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s