I’ve been mired in a bit of writer’s bog, and one Nano thought led to another, and I was reminded of a story I wrote that probably needs completely redone. It’s a vampire story (sorta), so I decided a reread of one of my favorite vampire stories was due. The book is Sunshine by Robin McKinley, and since I read it pre-concussion, I remember absolutely nothing about it except liking it and there’s vampires. (I forgot she was a baker, that’s how much I forgot.)
This is only discussing the first ten pages or so (before the first scene break), which if you haven’t read the book, can probably be found in an online excerpt.
What’s interesting to me as a writer, is that McKinley does a few things that if this were submitted to a writers’ group, might be marked as no-nos:
- the first seven pages are blocks of text (no dialogue)
- these seven pages are pretty much an info dump
And yet it works for the story, and as an entertaining read. Because while the reader is being given lots of information (her job, her boyfriend, her family…and more about her job), there are a lot of hints of things to come, and it works more to paint a picture of her world rather than just dump the information on the reader’s lap. But it’s a fine line, which McKinley succeeds in toeing. Obviously if you read the blurb, you know this is supernatural/vampires. If not, the first scene hints of this with “cockroaches the size of chipmunks” and “Other law” then hinting a bit more with “Voodoo Wars” and “bad places around the lake” before the very last word is “vampires.”
Not all of the first scene would be considered info dump, but looking at the parts that could be considered that (if not masterfully handled) shows how it can be done.
- Hint at something more than is being presented
- Have the information dump contrast with the something more (ie, mundane info when there’s something supernatural lurking in the background)
- Use the info dump to introduce the reader to the narrative voice/tone of the story, weaving in information about the character’s personality while seemingly just presenting facts.
- Make the information interesting on its own, but not quite interesting enough that the reader wants the story to be about that.
At least those are my thoughts on it. If you’ve read (and enjoyed) Sunshine, I’d love to hear your thoughts on the first scene and what works/doesn’t work for you!