Dump to Dialogue

We all hope that we grow as writers. In fact, I would go so far as to say that it’s imperative for enjoyment in the craft. I’ve become a firm believer that stagnation leads to rot, but thankfully, there can never be an endpoint because there can never be perfection in writing. Sure, some have come close, but there’s always a word that a writer could cut, prose that could be tighter, and a story that could have taken a more exciting or elegant turn. The journey is often more satisfying than the destination, so as long as you’re traveling, you have someplace to go. This gives me hope that this writing roller coaster will not end anytime soon.

I’ve been writing novels for 17 years, and it’s sometimes easy to lose sight of this journey as words pour onto the page. Growth is slow and extrapolated over long periods, so it is not always apparent until you find one of those abandoned manuscripts in the junk drawer. The other day, as I read through what I wrote in times past, I realized something. I had been trying to think of a blog post topic, and this was perfect!

My short-term memory has never been very good. I’ve probably mentioned this before ;). Thus, I try to get my ideas out as quickly as possible before they fade back into the ether. I have notebooks everywhere with frantic scribbles- a scene here, an image there. Sometimes a whole story idea will materialize and be jotted down. It will never disappear as long as I can remember where I placed the journal ;). Stephen King has said that you don’t need to write down a good idea. It just sticks with you. God, I hope that’s not a universal truth. Maybe none of my ideas are good, or perhaps I’m just an over-attentive parent afraid my children will run off and get lost when, in reality, they plan to live with me until they’re forty. I guess I’m too scared to find out, so I write a lot down. He’s a sage king, and I’m just a humble plebian, but I go with what works for me.

So what does my poor short-term memory mean for my process? I often start a chapter with an infodump to get enough of what I envision on the page so that I don’t lose it. The “dump” has developed into a necessary stage in my process, but it wasn’t always like that. For many years, I considered the product of this word vomit as final drafts. Ugh. And I wondered why I couldn’t get anything published. Live and learn, I guess, and luckily I learned a lot. I know now that this is only the first stage in my story’s journey.

The stream of consciousness is good for getting out those ethereal ideas, but it can be tedious for the reader to struggle through those purple prose while the author gets self-absorbed in their own “cleverness.” Sometimes the satisfaction of just getting something on the page made me lose sight that I am writing fiction. It’s supposed to be entertainment for a reader and not just myself. This move to a more altruistic reader-centric approach is a fundamental development in any writer’s craft. Some are born with this lens, but for most, it takes a lot of word vomit to see it for what it is and probably a few astute observers chastising you along the way for the mess you’re making of the artform.

I’ll admit that I still don’t always catch the infodumps. Still, now that I know I do it, I actively look for it when I edit and do my best to transform it into action by pulling it out of the word soup and changing it into observable behavior in the form of dialogue. Now, I’m not an overly-confident person, especially about my writing, but I can admit that my dialogue isn’t shit and a spirited conversation about a topic rather than just explaining it to the reader is more active and thus more enjoyable. I’ve coined this as Dump to Dialogue.

Yes, I know. My great discovery isn’t new (what is in writing?). Actually, it’s creative writing 101. The classic show vs tell. But, for my own journey, this was a profound revelation. In the back of my mind, the mantra always played, but to catch yourself actually doing it is not always easy. Hubris gets in the way. I told myself that no one had ever described it this way or got caught up in how eloquent my word choice was when, in fact, it was a dump in more than one meaning of the word.

Over the years, Dump to Dialogue has pulled me from writing about what is in my characters’ heads and forced me to express this in their behaviors, thereby letting the reader reach their own conclusions about motivations, thoughts, and emotions. Does this mean my readers always come to the conclusions I foresaw? No. But I’m ok with that because sometimes the reader discovers things I’ve hidden from myself, and that’s pretty neat. It makes the story alive, and if the tale can’t be more than just words on a page, why write?

Cheers!

Published by scottatirrell

Scott Austin Tirrell is a lover of the arcane who would choose a good crypt over a coffee shop. He finds solace in history and tales of yore sprinkled with a smidgen of nature's fury, long travel, and the thrill of the paranormal. His stories place ordinary and often flawed individuals in extraordinary situations that stretch beyond this physical plane. The human spirit's strength to reach greatness against incredible odds fascinates him, and thus, he is often a bit cruel with his protagonist. Certificates of study in psychology, history, and international relations gather dust on his wall, but he has found life to be the best stimuli for a good yarn. Scott has published three works currently available- the Island of Stone, a paranormal thriller, the Slaying of the Bull, a historical fiction set in 1241, and the Dawn of the Lightbearer, an epic dark fantasy. He lives with his wife in the Boston area, a place dripping with inspiration for someone who loves tales from the past and a good ghost story.

5 thoughts on “Dump to Dialogue

  1. The info dump is so tempting when telling a story. It’s like the “previously on bla bla show” but you are correct it is no fun for the reader. Fiction is not a newspaper article, it is a story with mystery and nuance. Less is more but we should start with a robust world and peel back pieces of the world through story.

    Liked by 2 people

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