In the terms of a friend of mine (L.J. Cohen, author of The Between, which I totally recommend for any YA fans out there) I managed to finish the “gut-renovation” of my latest science fiction novel. It’s only on the second draft and is now in the hands of my Alpha Readers. (I love you, Alpha’s!)
As I was in the middle of this gut-renovation I found myself yanking out several info-dumps in the middle of the manuscript. While it was necessary for the rough draft to have all that information in there because I’m not exactly a scientist (as in, my brain nearly melted during science class last semester), I knew I couldn’t keep it all in the novel.
Info-dumps are notoriously boring. And a boring book is nearly always relegated to propping up an uneven table or, in the case of Armageddon, kept for fuel during the subsequent nuclear winter.
However, I did have to find new and clever ways to explain the science behind space travel and the notorious “tapped” soldiers who star in the novel.
At least I like to think some of it was clever. My Alpha’s will let me know here in a couple of weeks if I succeeded.
But it really got me thinking about how novelists have to find the appropriate balance between how much information is too much information.
Let’s go ahead and assume the novelist in question has taken a permanent marker to all the info-dumps in the manuscript, they still have to find a way to get the truly important stuff on the page. And preferably in an interesting way.
For me the trick came in two parts.
Part One : Identify what the (highly intelligent, wonderful) Reader needs to know for this book in particular.
Tapped is the first installment of a much longer series. It is the introduction and therefore has to set the ground rules for the rest of the books. For those of you who are writers, you know how difficult it is to introduce a world, or in this case a galaxy, that is complete with political systems, travel considerations, scientific progress, and the impact everything has at the individual human level.
So! I boiled everything down to three main points of interest that the Reader would need to understand in order for the novel to make sense.
#1) They had to know the human race was stretched across the universe and that inter-stellar travel was a regular thing. (This was easily achieved since 3/4 of the book takes place on a “jumper class hauling ship.”)
#2) They had to know there was a war that split the human race into two different factions; that of the Consulate, which regulates everything from Jupiter through Gliese (an earth-like planet very, very far away) and that of the League, which regulates Mars and Earth (the last bastions of freedom.)
Author’s note: I totally wanted to use “Coalition” instead of “League” but it sounded too much like “Consulate” and I wanted to make sure they were all separate in the Reader’s mind.
#3) They had to know how “tapped” soldiers were made and what they could do. (This was also easy and fun because … yeah … most people know I love a good fight scene.)
Part Two : Identify the least amount of information needed in any particular scene.
The first part looked at the book as a whole, the second part looked at each individual scene while I was editing. In this part, I really only asked what was affecting the individual characters on the page. Because if the character’s weren’t affected by the science or politics, then the Reader didn’t need to be either.
The result is that the characters actually interacted with the three main points I needed the Readers to understand for the book. Which, I hope, made for a more solid and interesting book.
Like I said, I’ll know here in a little bit if I actually succeeded at this.