How to introduce information that would be obvious to the characters

by Marie
(Connecticut )

Question: I have spent a lot of time working out characters and plot lines in a story of mine, and am finally sitting down to flesh it out into a real draft. Naturally, this had led to some brand new problems.


Now that I am writing in-character, rather than just notes, I am having trouble putting a point on information that the reader needs, but that would be so ingrained into the characters themselves I could go several chapters without it being mentioned in a way that feels natural.

Do I just blurt "By the way these guys have super powers that they try really hard to never use" in Chapter One and be done with it?

So far my Chapter One makes note of many things that are unique to this culture, but none of these make obvious the essential fact of what they are.

Answer: The trick, which I think you get, is to introduce bits of information when the reader needs to know them rather than as an infodump. There's no absolute rule about these things. It's all about being fair to the reader while not taking them out of the story.

For instance, sometimes it might be appropriate to have a first line such as, "My name is Chloe, and I'm a superhero," and then launch right into the story.

On the other hand, there are times when you may want to hook the reader with a little mystery. So you might begin by presenting the main character in a situation where she is really tempted to use her power, show her having to work hard
to restrain herself, but not actually mention what she is trying to restrain herself from doing. Or perhaps you don't explain that she can actually do the thing she is tempted to do.

Then, perhaps in the next chapter when she is speaking about the incident to her superpowered friends, you might drop in some exposition between the dialogue to explain what's going on. Or perhaps you show them all using their powers when no one else is around.

It makes a difference too whether you are writing in first person or third. In first person, the main character can tell the story to someone (the reader) who she assumes knows nothing about her world. However, she's telling what happened to her, not giving a lecture, so she would only throw in facts when her reader needs to know them.

In third person, it's a little easier to "set the stage" with a little exposition before a scene. But you still need to avoid the infodump.

Fortunately, readers can infer a lot from little clues interspersed in the story. It's rather like joining a conversation where everyone assumes you know what they're talking about, even though you don't. At first it's confusing, but you listen carefully while your friend (i.e. the narrator) occasionally whispers key facts to you. Eventually, you are up to speed (hopefully before act three).

(An infodump, on the other hand, is like your friend pulling you out of the conversation and giving you a long lecture about the subject of the conversation. It's annoying because at that moment you want to be in the conversation.)

Best of luck.

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Feb 07, 2015
Thank you
by: Marie

Thank you so much for your quick reply!

Yes, I think the two easiest ways are the "info dump" (which is just awful) or having a "new guy" to explain things to.

Without either of those things, hopefully I can pull off successful inference through my third person narration. I really appreciate your thoughts on this.

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