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Old 03-15-2012, 12:48 PM   #1
jbcohen
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A Nasty habit

I am finding several authors seem to have a nasty habit of introducing concepts and places as if their readers understand wether they do or not in reality. Most recently one author talked about matchlock pistols and some places in northern germany and historical figures without explaining first. Fortunately for me I have a blackberry on my hip all of the time which was able to explain quite easily. When the author talked about antique wheel lock pistols the blackberry was able to show a picture of one and explain all about it. The author talked about debating Dr. Harvey as if I already knew of the man, the blackberry was able to explain, he was noted for being the first to describe how blood ciruclates through the body.
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Old 03-15-2012, 12:58 PM   #2
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I'd much rather have to look up something I may not be familiar with than have the author stop and take a big 'ol infodump in the middle of the narrative. Context will usually suffice for me and I still have the option to explore on my own if I so desire.
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Old 03-15-2012, 01:00 PM   #3
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I think this may be a case of "damned if you do..." as I very much dislike the opposite. I don't want authors talking down to me. I don't want them to explain every little thing. If there's something integral to the plot that I don't understand, I find it a lot less aggravating to look it up than when the opposite occurs and an author explains something I'm already familiar with.

edit: Or what DiapDealer said.

Last edited by K. Molen; 03-15-2012 at 01:01 PM. Reason: Need-to-type-faster.
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Old 03-15-2012, 01:53 PM   #4
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Quote:
Originally Posted by jbcohen View Post
I am finding several authors seem to have a nasty habit of introducing concepts and places as if their readers understand wether they do or not in reality. Most recently one author talked about matchlock pistols and some places in northern germany and historical figures without explaining first. Fortunately for me I have a blackberry on my hip all of the time which was able to explain quite easily. When the author talked about antique wheel lock pistols the blackberry was able to show a picture of one and explain all about it. The author talked about debating Dr. Harvey as if I already knew of the man, the blackberry was able to explain, he was noted for being the first to describe how blood ciruclates through the body.
I think we need to be careful here. Unless the specific operations of a matchlock are crucial to the story, you probably don't need to know more about them than they are a very primitive firearm (I didn't know they ever made them as pistols). Same with historical figures and places.

Sometimes, when this info is important to the story, the author will reveal the information slowly. It requires more work on the reader's part, but often results in less distraction.

You think this is bad with historical fiction? You should try it with science fiction... sometimes you can't look up the info.

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Old 03-15-2012, 02:03 PM   #5
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Isn't this what footnotes were invented for? The editor should be catching stuff like this.
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Old 03-15-2012, 02:17 PM   #6
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I find footnotes in fiction to be generally a bad idea—unless they're used facetiously for humorous effect (or a special edition author "commentary"). Otherwise, I just find them distracting. Because I simply can't stop myself from reading them as they occur... even when I already know exactly what they're going to say.

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Old 03-15-2012, 02:35 PM   #7
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Quote:
Originally Posted by bill_mchale View Post
...
You think this is bad with historical fiction? You should try it with science fiction... sometimes you can't look up the info.
...
Yep, in my opinion it's good science fiction when it's like this, and very bad when you have big dollops of explanation (infodumps) even if they're thinly disguised (sidekick character - "So remind me Holmes, what's the difference between a matchlock and a wheel lock?")

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Old 03-15-2012, 02:42 PM   #8
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I think that this begs an interesting question that might be good to open up for debate. Waht is the best way to ensure that readers understand things like what I ranted about? Some like diapdealer don't like big info dumps but some like myself would like an author to clue me into what they are talking about, for example an author once said that one of his chracters could debate Harvey. I would have preferred a short explination of who harvey was.
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Old 03-15-2012, 02:59 PM   #9
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Quote:
Originally Posted by andyh2000 View Post
Yep, in my opinion it's good science fiction when it's like this, and very bad when you have big dollops of explanation (infodumps) even if they're thinly disguised (sidekick character - "So remind me Holmes, what's the difference between a matchlock and a wheel lock?")
I agree. Too often in that (and the fantasy) genre, infodumps like that are being elevated to "world-building" status. When the fact of the matter is: authors should only hint at their worlds and allow the reader to do the bulk of the actual "building" with their own imaginations. I've gotten quite good at it—if the author doesn't keep stepping in to micromanage my efforts, that is.
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Old 03-15-2012, 03:46 PM   #10
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Quote:
Originally Posted by jbcohen View Post
I am finding several authors seem to have a nasty habit of introducing concepts and places as if their readers understand wether they do or not in reality. Most recently one author talked about matchlock pistols and some places in northern germany and historical figures without explaining first. Fortunately for me I have a blackberry on my hip all of the time which was able to explain quite easily. When the author talked about antique wheel lock pistols the blackberry was able to show a picture of one and explain all about it. The author talked about debating Dr. Harvey as if I already knew of the man, the blackberry was able to explain, he was noted for being the first to describe how blood ciruclates through the body.
Sounds like something from 1632. I don't mind this. In fact, if I have to stop and Google something, I know that I'm reading something interesting.
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Old 03-15-2012, 03:49 PM   #11
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Quote:
Originally Posted by jbcohen View Post
I think that this begs an interesting question that might be good to open up for debate. Waht is the best way to ensure that readers understand things like what I ranted about? Some like diapdealer don't like big info dumps but some like myself would like an author to clue me into what they are talking about, for example an author once said that one of his chracters could debate Harvey. I would have preferred a short explination of who harvey was.
It depends... if it is a question of existing technology (like wheellock and matchlock) if you really must, make it part of the story. I can imagine a scene where a character armed with a matchlock is struggling to get the slow match lit before the bad guys arrive. If it is historical characters? Maybe provide a list of historical figures at the front of the novel, or drop little hints through out the story. Maps are always a good thing for helping people understand where they are.

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Old 03-15-2012, 07:02 PM   #12
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I want the author to treat me like I am smart. It gives me something to live up to.
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Old 03-15-2012, 07:30 PM   #13
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Originally Posted by DiapDealer View Post
I agree. Too often in that (and the fantasy) genre, infodumps like that are being elevated to "world-building" status. When the fact of the matter is: authors should only hint at their worlds and allow the reader to do the bulk of the actual "building" with their own imaginations. I've gotten quite good at it—if the author doesn't keep stepping in to micromanage my efforts, that is.
I agree completely with this approach. The last thing I want is for authors to explain everything in minute detail - it gets annoying real fast and denies me the opportunity to create my own version of the world the story is set in. Explanations of specific imaginary technologies, weapons or whatever are easily worked into the narrative in an unobtrusive way by a competent author and as far as historical details or technologies go, I very much prefer the author to assume I know all about them already. Generally I do know them anyway, but if I don't chances are I'll enjoy looking them up for myself and learn something new.

In the very rare cases where there's a need to explain large amounts of things, or provide in-depth detail on the workings of a society, a planet or complex technology and its implications, I prefer to have presented in an appendix at the end of the book.

In general though: please assume that I am intimately familiar with just about everything in your world and instead focus on the plot and characterisation.
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Old 03-15-2012, 08:02 PM   #14
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I'd much rather have to look up something I may not be familiar with than have the author stop and take a big 'ol infodump in the middle of the narrative. Context will usually suffice for me and I still have the option to explore on my own if I so desire.
Abso-bloody-lutely......
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Old 03-15-2012, 09:20 PM   #15
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After the first few chapters of A Clockwork Orange I decided it was best to stop constantly looking up the Nadsat words. Even if the context didn't totally clear it up for me (are 'platties' pants or shirts ), I was able to get into the story better by just letting the nadsat flow over me without interruption.
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