3

I have two characters who don't get along and are sniping at each other from the moment they meet in the book. Throughout the story, they keep ramping it up. At a certain point, one character is still attacking, but the other one just telling the other one to shut up, and the attacking character has no idea who the second character really is.

Finally, the second character snaps. He decides once and for all to set the record straight. The two characters went to school together years before the story began, and when they meet in the story, they haven't seen each other since school. The second character was a popular jock and he bullied the first character very badly.

So when the second character snaps, he decides it's time for the bully to tell the nerd about how things looked from his perspective. He talks all about not wanting to go to the school, feeling pressured by his parents, being sneered at by kids similar to the nerd. He was miserable and took it out on the nerd. He's all grown up now and he's over with high school drama.

So it's a pretty long monologue. Is it an info dump? I kind of hate info dumps, but I can't imagine this story trickling out and having the same effect in the story. I want the bully to just keep taking the insults and getting angrier, but not taking the bait. I want the guy's story to totally shock the nerd. This is the point where I want the nerd to realize that he may not be the only person with problems. Perhaps he's not the innocent victim he's always portrayed himself to be. This is the point where the nerd and bully very slowly start a strong friendship.

10

No it should not be an info dump. The story continues. The only thing that should change is you switch to the character’s voice instead of using your own.

You might think of it as though your reader is going to put down your book, pick up a short story written by a character in your book and read that, and then pick up your book again.

As a writer, you can do the same. Stop writing your book, get into the head of the character who is going to tell the story, and write a short story as that character. You can literally create another document to work in, and you can make notes as that character, think as that character, and produce a stand-alone short story that you will then put into your book in the same way that you might put in an illustration.

  • I like this because this is sort of what I ended up doing. It was really fun because the nerd is the MC and is constantly thinking in this wordy intellectual way. The jock is very animated, uses a totally different vocabulary and even when he's completely furious, his sense of humor keeps leaking out. He's not MC material, but it was so fun to write this. – Keobooks Feb 8 '16 at 18:09
5

Synthesising the ideas above, you could consider leaving the framework of a strict dialogue for this kind of scene. Instead of merely fleshing out the dialogue with "stage action" as suggested by Lauren Ipsum, you could start the scene as a dialogue and lead the reader into the short story of Simon White by means of a transition phrase such as "He told him of ..." or "He remembered how ..." or "He thought of ...".

The difference is this: In a pure dialogue scene, the reader will witness your character's anguish and rage while telling the story. This can be very powerful. However, the actual source of these emotions will remain blurred. Relaying on the "short story concept", you can reveal the source and create an emotional connection between the character's troubled past and his disturbed emotions of the present. Thus, you get the best of both worlds: The present turmoil, and the past suffering that led to it.

4

An infodump is when the author has to get a whole bunch of important information to the reader, but it's not integral to the plot at that moment.

If Character 2 is ranting and finally getting something off his chest, it's not an infodump. It is the plot. It's the culmination of the plot.

To keep it from being a wall of text, break it up with stage business and reaction (physical or mental) from Character 1.

3

No, a character telling a long story is not by default an info dump.

The key to making sure it's not just clunky exposition is to make sure it is not a case of 'as you know, Bob' by which I mean one character should not be telling another character something they already know.

An example of this would be experienced police officers explaining procedures to each other for the benefit of the reader.

You should also be sure to keep the story in character, and make sure it's interesting for the readers, and preferably forwards the plot.

If it is backstory / flashback type information like this, then it's also better to make sure it's not right at the beginning of your story, because it will slow down the pace a bit.

2

Another way to get a long story out is to use an argumentative listener.

The biggest problem with a long story is that, IRL, nobody sits and listens to a long story from somebody they consider an antagonist. Unless they are held at gunpoint, they will argue. If they can't argue, they aren't absorbing the story emotionally, they are thinking of retorts and derision. We don't have sympathy or empathy for somebody we think is a mean jerk trying to make excuses for being a mean jerk.

A second problem is that such stories often lack any sense of conflict for the reader: They tend to be written as an emotionless laundry list of facts, things that happened, things that were felt. They are full of "tell" with no "show", and when somebody is speaking it just doesn't sound natural for their speech to "show" what happened. They say "Then Jane got shot", they don't describe in metaphor and allegory what that looked like or felt like to them.

The scene as you describe it is not realistic.

We will sit and listen to a long story from somebody we like or love, we either want to hear such stories, or are willing to do them the service of providing a sympathetic ear out of friendship, even if we find it uncomfortable.

Having an argument (or at least questions from a child or student) in the scene can provide the conflict, break up the soliloquy, and make the scene both longer and more realistic. For example:

Nick is the Nerd, Bill is the Bully. At some point:

"You never gave a shit about anybody but yourself," Nick said.

Bill surrenders. "That's true. I'm ashamed of it, I wish I could have been stronger, or smarter, or a better human being, but I wasn't."

Nick is set back a step. "Yeah, right. Poor Bill."

"No, I don't deserve sympathy. I was a coward. I was too afraid to stand up to my father, and I tried to deal with my pain by inflicting it on others."

[Nick responds with derision; Bill is strong enough to take it without becoming angry, until the story is out. Nick moves from open anger to silent resentment until he finally changes the subject. Nic does not give in, but in the future the insults to Bill have stopped.]

In other words, I think the dynamic you have chosen is difficult to make work, it is rowing upstream to make Nick, the aggressor in your description, sit passively and hear Bill's story. In essence this makes Bill the bully again, he forces the nerd to sit and listen.

What would be easier is a role reversal, which you have already begun: the nerd is constantly picking on the bully, and the bully has withdrawn to the point of just passively taking it.

So continue that is what I am illustrating above (without knowing your characters, obviously). Nick is the angry aggressor, Bill has passively surrendered and provides information. When Bill cracks it isn't in anger, it is because Nick has won, his harangues have worn him down. In embarrassment and regret he would rather ignore this part of his life, but Nick won't let it go, so Bill gives up. It isn't anger, it is resignation, he has done wrong and cannot undo it, he knows that no matter how truly sorry he is apologies don't undo the harm and he has no right to expect forgiveness. The best he can do is let Nick know he [Bill] does not disagree.

Fortunately, you have cast Nick as a nerd, and nerds can think. IRL, sometimes understanding how something bad happens can help us deal with the fact that it happened to us. So let us say Nick realizes that Bill is a different person, and now HE [Nick] has become almost exactly the same kind of bully he despises. The nerd can figure that out, and feel shame at having let himself get so far out of control, and that can let Nick relate to how Bill himself felt back then. So Nick turns over a new leaf, too. His retaliation against Bill is done, he does not want to be a bully. He now understands first hand the grim reward of insults and inflicting pain on somebody that won't defend himself, but that is not who Nick wants to be. Which means now, his relationship with Bill is reset to neutral, and once he has been mentally diligent enough to kill this ugly pattern of behavior in which he responds to Bill with attack, their relationship can move forward.

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