"Give me more. But not too much."
We need to tread carefully. If we give too much information, it's considered an 'info dump'. If we don't give enough, our characters seem artificial, shallow and flat. If only we could somehow transfer the image of the characters right onto a computer screen. From vision to words with just the right amount of characteristics and description.
Sadly, there is no magic spell to cast the perfect character onto the screen. So, we add bits here and there. Before we know it, we've added 3,000 words of "absolute brilliance" and we send that pass off to our editors. For the next few days or weeks, we feel great. We've added depth. We've got this. And then, the second pass comes with a note.
"Do you really think we needed to know that Chuck punched Billy in the third grade? Do we really need to know that Lucy stopped five different times on her search for the perfect apples in a book about oranges?"
Examples, of course, but you know what I mean. Our bubble of brilliance is shattered. We are so sure that the reader needs to know the difficulty Lucy faced when trying to make the perfect pie. We know the reader must know Chuck's entire bully-type history which in turn is shown by the way he is such a jerk to everyone in his present. Right? No.
We are immediately crushed. Ready to give up, throw the laptop, shred the book and curl up in the fetal position. But that's okay. We won't learn anything if we don't go through all of the motions and emotions. I find biting the laptop to be perfectly acceptable.
The fact is, that no matter how perfectly we envision our heroes and heroines...it is damn hard to perfect that fine line. And one person's info dump is another's perfection. Another person will think we didn't give enough even when we think we've given too much. The line moves all of the time. The only thing we can do is tread lightly and keep going.
I happen to be one of those people who normally doesn't take direction from other people. I've always been stubborn and steadfast in my convictions. However, when it comes to writing, I believe in shutting my mouth, listening and accepting the advice when it's given. If more people did this...we might see improvements in a lot of author's work.
As an author, I have the choice whether to follow the advice or not. Have I run into editors who wanted to completely change my story? Yes. And I put my foot down. Not because I was being a jerk, but rather, because I knew how the story should go and I wanted to make it work as it was. Sure, it needed improvements, but I've been asked to completely change things. Luckily, for the past year, I have worked with a woman who not only gives advice...but she asks what I think. I'm sure she is constantly frustrated with my punctuation and grammar errors, but she never yells; "What the *&%# are you doing?!" We get through them. Of course, I kick myself for making such incredibly obvious errors and it feels like I'll never get things right.
The point is...I'm recognizing some of my own errors. Something I hadn't been able to do before.
So, even though I get bogged down by trying to figure out the 'fine line' of info dump vs. not enough, I'm making progress. Every minute of that frustration is worth it when we can look through the manuscript and see that we've fixed errors and created a deeper character that hopefully people will love as much as we do. No, we'll never find every error. I've never read a perfect book. But, finishing it to the best of my ability is one of the greatest feelings ever.
Until the next one...