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Archive for the ‘Creative Writing’ Category

Three Ways to Identify “Data Dump”

Monday, January 24th, 2011

Recently, I’ve advised several writers using our editing service to avoid the dreaded “data dump”.

A data dump occurs when you give a lot of information to the reader at once in a clunky or obvious manner.  Below are a few ways to detect when you’re dumping information on the reader.

The Laundry List

I often see this when we’re seeing a character for the first time.  Here’s an example (this and all others in this article are completely made up):

Bob Jones took off his wire-rimmed glasses.  He was 5′ 6″, and wore tan slacks with his blue button-down shirt.  His hands were old and gnarly, and age spots showed under the edge of his sleeve.  His shoes were brown.  His eyes were green, but one of the pupils seemed to be turning milky-white from cataracts.  His thin frame belied a desperate, inner strength.

While the description is nice, and you likely have a firm image of him in your mind, we have no idea why we should care about him.  Here’s a recommended edit of the above paragraph:

Bob Jones took off his wire-rimmed glasses.

It’s really all you need to know.  The other details can be sprinkled throughout the story elsewhere, or not at all (hint:  eye color rarely matters).

“As You Already Know…”

This is when one character tells other characters something they already know.  If you see this tag in your dialogue, consider eliminating it.

For example, if you see something like this:

“As you already know, we’re under attack from the vicious Culverians.  They’re our sworn enemies for millennia, and we need to kill them.”

It’s probably a data dump.  A revised version might look something like this:

“We’re under attack!  Man battle stations.  Let’s kill them all.”

Note how the second version appears much more active.  The reader doesn’t know all of the detail, but they don’t need to.  They know they’re reading about a battle, and that’s probably good enough for now.  Later, after the battle, you can reveal how they’ve been at war for millennia.

The Ambler

This one’s a little more subtle than the others.  Essentially, you’re trying to do too much in a single sentence or paragraph.

John slowly brought the fork to his mouth as he watched his wife, who he suspected was cheating on him, chat with a man across the street.

When you see a sentence that tries to describe two people doing different things, you should check it carefully.  When you toss in background information as well, you’re probably letting your focus wander.  You may also be dumping information on your reader.

A revised version:

John slowly brought the fork to his mouth as he gazed out the window.  His wife was chatting with a man across the street. 

She’s cheating on me, he thought.  I know it.

Look for these three symptoms to identify data dump in your writing.

What other ways do you detect data dump?  Are there other symptoms we’re not mentioning here?

Should I write only for money?

Monday, January 10th, 2011

Last week, I participated for the first time in #writechat on Twitter.  #writechat was created by Julie Isaac (a.k.a., @WritingSpirit – Follow her!), and it’s a weekly event every Sunday afternoon from 12-3PM PST.

For all you writers out there, this was a valuable use of a Sunday afternoon.  You can dispense advice or ask questions from dozens of writers from a wide range of experiences.  You should go.

One of the topics that came up last week was whether someone should write only for money.  One participant indicated that she always writes with the intention of getting paid.  There’s a lot of financial sense in that: why would you spend your time working on non-productive tasks?

While I applaud the concept, there are some other reasons to write with no expectation of money:

  • A story for a family member or friend – They, particularly children, love having a story crafted just for them
  • A letter for a loved one – There’s still no beating the rush of receiving a personal letter in the mail
  • To try out a new style – When you’re just trying out a different writing style, there’s often no market to sell to
  • To expand your horizons – When you’re trying to make sense of a new technology, experience, or person, sometimes writing it out will bring clarity
  • To preserve something for posterity – A journal can be an invaluable asset for your surviving family members when you go
  • To help build a relationship – Sometimes a letter is just the right thing to help you get that new client or learn more about a family member’s past

In some cases, you may still be able to sell your writing.  However, for the most part, I think this is unlikely.  However, you’re still investing in your own skill and helping others you know, so there’s a lot of non-monetary reward.

Does lack of a financial reward lessen your drive?

When there’s a purpose, I think we’re driven to write better.  Sometimes non-monetary rewards are those that will help drive our for-profit writing to even higher levels.

What do you think?  Should a writer only write for-profit?  What other places might a writer’s efforts be spent on that are more valuable than money?

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