It’s often important to do research on certain places or time periods when we write fiction. But we need to use the information we gain effectively and not “dump” it on the reader. I learned this from an editor I had a session with at a conference. She critiqued a chapter from my manuscript—middle grade historical fiction based on the childhood of Audrey Hepburn. My research had yielded the names of popular books for girls in 1940. I knew Audrey loved reading, so I tried to work in some tidbits to show her relationship with a brother and add authentic details about the period.
Her oldest brother leaned over and patted her shoulder. “Kleine (little one), so you had a great time last night?”
Alex was twenty, nine years old than Audrey. Still, she felt closer to him than she did to Ian, who was sixteen. She loved Alex’s kind eyes and quick smile. “Yes, you should have seen it,” she said.
He made a face. “Ballet? Nah.” Then he smiled and handed her a gift wrapped in bright blue paper and white satin ribbon. “Sorry I missed your birthday,” he said, as she tore off the wrapping.
She held the book up to show her mother. “The Box of Delights.”
“It’s by John Masefield,” Alex told her, “the same author who wrote The Midnight Folk. I remember you liked that.”
“I’ll love it,” she said and hugged it to her chest.
“Information dump,” the editor said. “That’s what authors do when they want to show how much research they’ve done and how well they know their subject. But kids don’t care about those details. They care about the character’s plight.”
The editor explained that the info I revealed added nothing to the story. She said I should put the brother and Audrey in a scene that not only revealed their relationship, but also moved the store forward. She said young readers need to know just enough about the time period to understand what’s happening to the character. “Don’t dump info on them,” she said. “It bores them.”
Tune in next week—same blog, same time—for an example of how to weave in info about the period while advancing the plot.