Introducing Fictional Elements, or: Have you Heard of a Smartphone?

  1. Tower75

    Tower75 I am the Night

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    Hello, Chroniclers.

    As I've gotten older I've come to recognise certain writing styles and the types that I like to read.

    When I read a book, I don't like to have all the information straight away, what I mean by this is that, say I'm reading a sci-fi book and the author first mentions a machine, or planet, or gadget, or social situation, and then after they introduce this element they then spend the next 2 or 3 pages explaining what this element is. It really knocks me out of the story.

    I like to work for my info. Say the characters in a book keep referencing "Hound", you have no idea what Hound is, maybe it's a branch of the space-government, or maybe it's a social holiday or something. The characters are talking about it like it's a normal thing that doesn't need explanation, however, and here's the trick: it is a fictional element so of course it need explanation, but I prefer to learn with the character and only get snippets of info so I can figure it out naturally. The story tells me what Hound is, not the author as soon as I hear of Hound.

    The only way I can describe this is The Smart Phone Style. Say you're reading a modern-day thriller, and as soon as the protagonist pulls out a smart phone the author goes off and spends 5 pages explaining to you what a smart phone is. That would be unnatural in a modern-day thriller set in 2015 Boston... Thrillers can be set in Lincolnshire, right? :LOL: So why is that any different to SFF?

    I'm not sure if there's an actual, writing term for this; but I find it interesting how different authors choose to give us information.

    What's your ideal method for introducing fictional elements?
     
  2. Phyrebrat

    Phyrebrat ba-Ba-ba-brat

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    Context, I think is the way. Usually the 'thing' is explained by the context and built on gradually over a certain period until a reader understands.

    It's more osmosis that info-dump IMO.

    pH
     
  3. The Judge

    The Judge Truth. Order. Moderation. Staff Member

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    Well, the opposite term is info-dump -- and we've had a number of threads on this recently where counter-measures to the info-dump are discussed.

    If we're coming up with anti-info-dump terms, I'm going for the Gradual Reveal.**

    I would say, though, that like any technique, there are dangers in the GR, whereby the dance of the seven veils goes on so long the reader gets irritated with the many hints and partial disclosures and actually wants the information NOW.


    ** Which I shall now trademark, so if any of you want to refer to Gradual-Revealing I shall expect royalties. Waitrose do a very nice Earl Grey and lemon shortbread biscuit.
     
  4. Jo Zebedee

    Jo Zebedee writes books about people.

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    Context is king.
     
  5. Tower75

    Tower75 I am the Night

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    Have we? Oops, sorry. I do hate to duplicate threads.

    Wait, is that Earl Grey and lemon flavoured biscuit?
     
  6. RX-79G

    RX-79G Well-Known Member

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    You can do that, but not if the "Hound" or whatever isn't a pretty large part of the story so it can keep coming up. If the shuttlecraft flight is only on one page, there will be no Gradual Reveal™.

    But I do think that some of the best futuristic sci fi is somewhat confusing and hard to read at first. The future should be shockingly unfamiliar and making the reader uncomfortable and disoriented is a great effect.
     
  7. tinkerdan

    tinkerdan candycane shrimp

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    It can be a delicate balance and often hinge on whether the science in the fiction wants to be hard or soft; and then whether said science in the particular context can survive being bled out slowly. I think that the background details like cell phones and toilets and taxi cabs and birthday cake might survive being glossed over when they show up as vaguely familiar items in the world, but there is some balance of struggle when it's something that has no reference today, though often there are referents that exist and slipping those in occasionally might help keep an author from over explaining things.

    Still there might be some puzzling moments when some vital piece of the science needs to be explained so the reader can get on with the rest of the story. That's where the balance is and the question arises as to how long you can treat the science as a mystery before the reader gets flustered.

    Overall: I'm definitely in favor of engaging narrative over stuffing a technical manual in the middle of a chapter.
     
  8. RX-79G

    RX-79G Well-Known Member

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    I really do not see this as way to write "better". Exposition vs mysterious reveals are narrative techniques that serve storytelling goals. Thinking about them as anything other than a way to drive the story is a mistake.

    William Gibson's recent The Peripheral uses the gradual reveal to drive the mystery that the characters are trying to solve. It is fully part of the structure of the book, rather than some alternative to explaining what's going on. Stephenson's equally excellent Seven Eves uses quite a bit of exposition as it goes along. No one would argue that Seven Eves is a poorly written novel.
     
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  9. dannymcg

    dannymcg Raoul Mitgong won't help

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  10. Martin Gill

    Martin Gill Well-Known Member

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    Except the last third is JUST infodump. I immediately thought of Seven Eves when i saw this thread. I do feel that Stephenson gets away with exposition and infodumping in a way that would make other authors seem boring. Its kind of half way between reading a scientific paper on the subject and a novel.
     
  11. Overread

    Overread Direwolf of the chrons

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    I think there's a few things that come into play

    1) Losing the reader. Any info dump has the potential to lose the reader if done badly to the point where the reader feels they are being taken too far out of the story. That said the same is true if the reader can't understand what is going on, even at a basic level.
    If the "Garblesmasher is gricking the Glibber" then I bet not a single person reading that knows what's happening (I don't even know and I wrote it). For a reader they will typically only go a short way before giving up if they get lost. Even if they only understand the action going on and not all the science or background or reasoning - so long as they can form a mental picture and follow the events.

    2) Setting things up early. Sci-fi and fantasy both suffer from generally having to dump a lot of info on the reader early so that the reader gets up to speed with the world so that events later can run a lot smoother. That way the reader gets into the story and isn't always being torn out of it. Instead you've got a school scene; alien discovering new things; etc.... ergo tricks that let you info dump whilst being part of the story.
    Done well this means that later the writer can go long stretches without having to dump any info; or only needing subtle hints/reminders; because the reader is already onboard. They've already got some world knowledge to build the scene in their mind up.


    Infodump is an ugly word, but the core of the concept still comes through. It's a fine line between dumping info and giving background on the world setting. There's lots of tricks from using footnotes (to be fair only Terry Pratchett ever made extensive use of them); the world info at the start/finish (might just be places/names and a short sentence on each one and a world map); chapter starters, short clipped story/info that appears for a paragraph at the start of a chapter. Outside of the story yet part of the whole narrative.
     
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  12. DelActivisto

    DelActivisto Hey I'm Mary Poppins, ya'll!

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    Info dumps are generally looked down on. That said, they do have a place and time. A lot of times, I've noticed this fine by the character thinking about the issue inside and out. They sneak a few extra details that they character wouldn't normally think about, but what the heck. People think about things all day long, sometimes very detailed, and sometimes not very detailed at all (blondes). But I will agree that I prefer a natural slipping through of the information as the character discovers the world. For instance you can have the character talk about how much he prefers his androi over his iPhone, because the android phone doesn't sandbox all the apps, which is a huge security hole but also gives you much more control over the data on the phone.

    At which point someone hacks his phone and he smashes it, because he didn't have an iPhone. ;)
     
  13. R.T James

    R.T James Furry Steampunk Street Urchin

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    Jim butcher does these things well in the Dresden files. Granted it's first person so it's more thoughts or directed directly at the reader.

    For example most of what Harry is revealing he freaking knows.


    And to a certain school of literary thought this is A CRIME for he'd never need to explain it.

    He knows about the laws of magic, The nevernever, the fact that Morgan wants to cut off his head because of things he did as a youth.

    These are things explained in a matter which are exposition, but it's harry directly explaining this to you. Also it's his thoughts and reflections.

    I find first person to be a bit more enjoyable for information being told to you.
     
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  14. sknox

    sknox Well-Known Member

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    It's only an infodump if it's done badly. When it's done well, they call it exposition, or brilliant prose, or some such.

    I don't like "infodump" as a word. Not only is it ungainly, it's really merely a word for "bad writing" that misleads people into thinking it means something more.
     
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  15. mistri

    mistri Active Member

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    It can be hard to find a balance sometimes. Certainly I've written short stories sometimes and purposely haven't explained everything, because some things (are supposed to) give the world colour, rather than to be over-explained. But I still get readers (beta readers, as most don't get published, which is probably saying something) saying 'but what does this mean' 'why don't you explain what this is'. I've also had people comment when something has been too obvious upfront.

    What you need to do differs from story to story, and figuring out how you do it is simply part of the writers' plight.
     
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  16. R.T James

    R.T James Furry Steampunk Street Urchin

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    How about the opposite of "future" technology. This is something that just happened with somebody who read something I wrote which involved a 1980's american boat of a car hitting somebody at roughly 40 mph, being stopped by a solid object, and not being damaged.

    The person wanted to know why the airbags didn't go off or anything like that, and how the car wasn't a mangled mess and the MC was unharmed.

    As somebody who daily drove a big land yacht this made me ponder. Because its like do I need to explain that every car pre 1990 did not have airbags? Do I need to explain how the thick steel mandated bumpers and full frame construction of these cars made them tanks?

    And for the 40mph thing if people question that. I spun out in my car during winter and hit a fence and a tree doing 40mph. No damage was done to anything, the only thing that had me scared during the incident was the fact that there was a cup of coffee between my legs.:confused: I am so glad it went forwards. (Oh yeah and my car didn't have cup holders too! Hence hot coffee in close proximity to parts you don't want scolding coffee dumped on.)

    I've also hit a full grown deer doing 60 mph in that car and only suffered a broken headlight bezel.

    But I am writing in this 2017. A time where cars are made out of paper mache and get totaled if you sneeze at them or back into anything at 5mph.

    Just what do you need to explain?:cautious:

    Because if it was a 2016 chevy Camaro my MC did this stunt in he'd be in a coma. o_O
     
  17. Cathbad

    Cathbad Yeah, I've got my ugly gray beard back!!

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    Right, @R.T James .

    In the late 70s, my aunt, uncle, two cousins (one pregnant) and one cousin's husband were in a Cadillac doing at least 55 when an orange hauler moved into their lane and hit them head on. The car was crushed all the way to the dash, but other than some bruises and sore muscles, no one in the Caddy was seriously hurt!

    America used to make some great cars.
     
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  18. R.T James

    R.T James Furry Steampunk Street Urchin

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    :eek:

    And people question me for throwing the amount of money I am into a 1986 crown victoria I bought for 600.o_O

    I once saw the results of a 1995 honda civic vs a 1957 chevy at highway speeds. The Honda cut off the chevy after going down an acceleration ramp blind.

    The honda's trunk was touching the roof and the rear wheels were at the hight that the bottom of the rear window used to be. The rear passenger doors were bent in half and the car looked like a j. The 1957 chevy... smashed to the radiator support, hood was bent in, grill was destroyed. headlights were puckered in. The bumper looked unfazed.

    Car was still able to drive and everything!:eek:

    I have a 1958 VW bug that I am convinced the steel was taken from panzers. It's absurdly thick and my parents had the car fly off of the tow bar, pass them, go over a ditch, have the two bar fly under the car, AND it finally went bouncing across a field and no damage was done to anything.

    People tell me my car is unsafe. I say to everybody else on the road.:ROFLMAO:

    A crown victoria like mine was t-boned by a nissan truck. The owner was able to hop out hit the fuel pump inertia switch and drive it out of the way. He would have still been driving it if the insurance company didn't total it out! Truck's whole front was destroyed and the suspension broke.

    Don't make like they used too!

    If the body on my crown vic rusts I'm going to slap on a 1950s' shoebox ford body. The wheel base is the same and I'll just sawzall off the floorpan scrap the body of the vic (with much tears ) and weld on the 1950's body.
     
  19. Cathbad

    Cathbad Yeah, I've got my ugly gray beard back!!

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    Yeah, even the VW was built much better. I totaled a hatchback in '75, and walked away with two cracked ribs. The tree looked worse than me!
     
  20. DelActivisto

    DelActivisto Hey I'm Mary Poppins, ya'll!

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    Modern engineering begs to differ.

    Why Cars Are Safer Than They've Ever Been

     
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