A Current Endeavor – Truth be Told?

June 23, 2013 at 12:38 am (horror, writing) (, , , , , , , , )

I just finished up chapter 8, so I’m still making progress, which is good. I’ve been following an internet debate as to whether or not a writer should offer up an explanation or background story of what exactly is the cause of the zombie apocalypse (if there happens to be one in their story.) The initiator of the thread suggested that the background story is not necessary and mainly exists as filler or the bane of the writer: the info dump.

I’m inclined to disagree.

I do think that an explanation for the apocalypse is not always necessary. It is dependent on the plot of the story, the characters involved, and even the length of the tale. I’m less prone to believe that a background story is required for a short story – there just may not be time to get into the details. A short story often captures a moment or a single event, so the kind of extraneous facts that belong in a novel just don’t fit there. But sometimes the story absolutely demands an explanation – it can be integral to the plot and based on the nature of the characters involved, they may not be satisfied until they have one.

There was more debate as to whether the cause is scientific or supernatural should impact the need for that background story, but I also believe that those things aren’t deciding factors. In either case the characters may never get the opportunity to discover the “why”. They may not have the knowledge base to allow for answers, and they may not have the time or the opportunity to go looking for them.

I also object to the notion that an explanation has to result in an info dump. There are plenty of ways to add details to a story without throwing it at the reader in one large, hard-to-digest lump. The characters can discover information bit by bit, digging for the details, or the plot can simply incorporate the cause, making it a part of the bigger picture. Personally, I try to avoid discussing any background stories unless I feel it’s important for the readers to have. In some cases, less is more.

I took a look at my published zombie stories and, my yet to be published zombie novel and the inclusion of an apocalypse explanation really does vary.

Palliative (short story) – no explanation. Time is limited and opportunity non-existent.

Just Another Day (short story) – brief explanation. Protagonist is not a scientist and her knowledge is limited to what she has heard/read in the news.

Waking the Dead (short story) – hypothesized explanation. Cause is integral to the plot and one of the characters is a know-it-all who insists on researching it as best she can

Deadline (short story) – brief explanation. Protagonist is not a scientist but works with them. She casually skims their research but is too disinterested to dig for more details.

Shear Terror (novelette) – no explanation. Protagonist is a pre-teen separated from civilization and technology.

What a Man’s Gotta Do (short story) – vague explanation. Protagonist is not an educated man and doesn’t really care much about the details. Knows what he has learned in passing about the cause, over time.

Escarg-0 (short story) – full explanation. Cause is integral to the plot and characters witness it firsthand.

Life and Undeath on the Chain Gang (short story) – no explanation. Story does suggest a supernatural root to the apocalypse, but no details given. Protagonist is a prisoner without any real exposure to the world-at-large.

Sleep Escapes Us (novel) – full explanation. Cause is absolutely integral to the plot and characters witness the events that lead to the apocalypse.

This should prove I don’t believe there’s a tried and true rule here. And in no case is there an info dump in any of these stories. The funny thing is, in one instance some of the readers thought there should have been one. That goes to show you that you can’t please everyone, because you’ll run into naysayers on either side of the debate.

I’m going to keep going with my gut on this one. I know I don’t like info dumps myself, they tend to read a little dry, but I’m a fairly curious person who wants to know the “why” if it is relevant.

Truth be told? Only if it should be.


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