See comments below the quote! I hope this is the right place to post this.
quote:The vast rolling plains of the Kingdom lay spread across the easternmost aspect of the land and continue for hundreds of leagues beyond the King’s border. The mighty Antir River separates Kallistan from the lesser nations and the vast unclaimed territories of the eastern wilds where great nomadic tribes have roamed for ages. In the southern regions the timeless meandering of the great river has left hundreds of slices of marshy islands, habitable by droves of long-legged white birds and enormous crocodiles. Nearer the estuary where the Antir flows into the Boslin Sea, the breadth of the great river is an enormous expanse of slow moving watery plains.Great flotillas of massive trade ships travel north up the Antir as far as the city of Belts Pass and south into the churning...
Not meaning to beat the proverbial dead horse... this section has the feel of an info dump, but where it falls in the story (at 6500 words in) makes sense. However, it continues as a bit of geographic exposition for two more paragraphs of similar portion, laying out the Kingdom's borders and giving clue to the 'personality' of the Kingdom.
What I desire from you folks here is not so much a grammatical analysis, but your initial reaction to the 'info dump' question. I am really trying to unravel the 'way to do this correctly' for sections of descriptive info. This section begins at a chapter break after a thorough introduction of the MC and her buddies. Thanks for the help.
What I do when I need to throw in a glob of background or setting, is just plain do it (no more than a couple hundred words, and as closely on the topic as possible), but then segue into the relevance it has for the POV character.
So in one case I wound up with
quote: NN years ago [paragraph of Major History] happened, leading to [one or two sentences about the subsequent ongoing State Of Things], and now [a couple sentences regarding what Minor Character recently did to Upset the State of Things].
Our Hero, on reading about the Upset on the news, decides to go off and join up with Minor Character.
So it's relevant to what Our Hero does, rather than just being thrown in *because*.
Over time this has developed into a sort of Style, so if you encounter a small infodump in my writing, you know you need to pay attention because it's going to directly affect the POV character within the next page or so. Or at least I hope it works that way
My evil twin wants to go back to your example specifically: On re-reading it, I realised I'd become bored with the description about halfway through and hadn't absorbed much of it. You might be better off to include a fairly detailed map, and let the reader refer to that rather than trying to describe the whole place at once.
As to what lives where, ask yourself why we need to know that if we're not on the spot? When your folks travel through there is probably soon enough to know about crocodiles and long-leggeddy birds.
Also, it now occurs to me... why is it this late in the work that we finally need to know this?
This section and the following paragraphs lead to a specific spot on the map where the MC is looking out over the vista at a distant city. What I have noticed in reading my current book list is that the writers seem to season sections with smatterings of colorful descriptions having little to do with the actual plot/story line... smells of the city, colors of the sunset, zillions of neon signs lining the streets,etc. Crocs and birds have nothing to do with the plot, they exist in the scene and hopefully generate good pictures in the imagination.
As to the location in the book, this is the first time the MC goes out from a tiny village to travel across the whole of the kingdom. I enjoy the maps in fantasy books, but rarely employ them while reading. CJ Cherryh for example includes maps, but offers full rendering of the land in the text, sometimes taking a full page to describe. I am feeling the tendancy to avoid cutting every single word that does not move the story in the exact footsteps of the MC. Description is important, a slower exposition rather than action, action, action... jumping from one fire to the next with little or no coloring.
While I generally agree with you about "full rendering" in the text, and that it's not necessary for every word to "drive the story forward" -- you also have to be careful with your POV. Is this history overlaid on the geography something your villager would know about, or even think about? If so, how did he learn it? (It seems beyond the scope of an uneducated person, so consider that re his background.) Or are you pulling away and becoming an omniscient narrator for the duration?
More thinkin' ...
Do you have a lot of such points? If so you might want to consider using them as chapter headers, rather than inserting them into the storyline.
The most remarkable job I've seen of that was Neal Asher's Skinner, where the chapter headers served to illustrate the life cycle of the planet, and came full-circle as of the last one. Meanwhile, the story wasn't interrupted by a biology lecture.
[This message has been edited by Reziac (edited January 21, 2011).]
Reziac - very good thoughts ~ thinkin 'bout it. I have played around with chapter opening 'stuff' before. RA Salvatore comes to mind. Again, doing the thing vs doing it well is what I am trying to get to...
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I think it depends on how you want it received. Is your MC taking all this in as she views it or, as Reziac puts it,
quote:are you pulling away and becoming an omniscient narrator...
Also, consider why you have so much separated from your MC's POV. Will this be consistently done throughout? If this is your book's style, I don't see too much of a problem with it as long as there's not too much information given at one time.
When it matters to someone in the story; ie, when a character is thinking or talking about the subject. It slides in naturally then as part of what the character is involved with at the time.
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I love reading about beautiful or interesting places, but in a story part of why the place is beautiful or interesting is the character’s reaction to it. You can have a character pause on a small rise in the land and take it all in or you can have a character fail to notice the beauty around him, but it still matters because of the character’s reaction/interaction with it.
I remember reading somewhere that you can treat the setting much as if it is another character, and use many of the same rules of characterization. Also, don’t forget to “use what you know.” When do you stop and notice the scenery around you? What do you notice? Have you ever wished that you paid more attention to your surroundings? What makes you not notice your surroundings? Routine? Crisis? Do you sometimes have family/friends draw your attention to a beautiful sunset, or garden? Do you look for landmarks to help keep you from getting lost?
What a character notices can also tell you a great deal about who they are. What a cop notices is different from what a farmer notices. A male character is unlikely to notice shoes, a city dweller is unlikely to notice animal tracks, and a child may not notice the storm on the horizon but might be fascinated by the insect life. When you describe a setting apart from your characters you might be missing the chance to let your audience get to know them better.