During the course of writing novels, I come to places in my stories where I need to share information with readers, adding historical background, context, character development, plotting details, and clues. The problem, I feel, is that the information should be revealed gradually, and it must also move the story along and help my readers solve the mystery before them. The caveat is that these new facts can’t be delivered in the form of an information dump, which might have odd sounding dialogue or appear as an unnatural topic of conversation.
As an example, all too often, when I’m watching a detective movie, I’ll see a protagonist and his secret informant meet inside a strip bar to share information, which strikes me as an overworked cliché—and in real life would be dangerous for the snitch. Not all cops or detectives do their business openly in strip bars, but Hollywood seems to love it, possibly because it gives them a chance to showcase naked women and make a point that the productions are edgy, meaning realistic and gritty. So although I don’t mind nudity or sex in this genre, I make a deliberate effort to find something more engaging about Seattle’s history or geography, where I can bring new information to light, without resorting to the cliché or the information dump.
A case in point in my Theater of the Crime (Available at Seattle Mystery Bookshop, University Bookstore, and Edmonds Bookshop) is where I have protagonist Alan Stewart meet with Sylvie Jourdan, Alexander Conlin’s business manager for late night breakfast at El Gaucho’s Restaurant. I find that greater intimacy and information comes from the relaxed environments of restaurants, coffee shops, and cafes, where people are instinctively more social and let their guards down. There is banter, teasing, social intimacy, and the sharing of clues that the keepers of which might not even know they possess. The focus of their discussion this evening is the spate of suspicious deaths of leading vaudeville magicians, all while performing on Seattle stages during the twilight of the vaudeville years. Alan and Sylvie meet immediately after Conlin’s performance. That evening, in his role of “Alexander Who Knows,” he predicted yet another magician’s death. Alan needs to find out how he’s making these predictions—and if there’s a way for him to prevent any more deaths and solve the mysteries that have already occurred.
Thanks for stopping by to share your food for thought, Neil!
You can find Neil here: