This Dumpster Dive Will Yield No Treasures

This Dumpster Dive Will Yield No Treasures

It’s Friday and that means it’s Deleted Scenes day! Please welcome our guest, Deborah O’Neill Cordes,  who’s sharing how she tamed the dreaded info dump monster, a monster all writers need to harness. Deborah does it expertly in her latest novel, Dragon Dawn. I’m reading Dragon Dawn at the moment, and I don’t usually read sci-fi, but Deborah builds her worlds and characters so masterfully, I am hooked and rooting for the heroine. I want to go with the heroine  in this story and you will too!

Here’s Deborah!

From the Oxford Dictionary: info dump

Syllabification: in·fo dump, noun

A very large amount of information supplied all at once, especially as background information in a narrative: The movie begins with a lengthy expository info dump.

Ah, the dreaded info dump! I’ve always envisioned it as a monster, lurking in the trash heap of bad writing. It bedeviled me for years, until, through trial and error and lots of sweat equity, I tamed the bloody beast and finished multiple novels and one epic screenplay. My advice to authors who find themselves delving into the monster’s realm? Dip in and then swiftly back off; in other words, work your information in slowly, slyly, and perhaps even shyly. Don’t proclaim your research skills to the world in a heavy handed way. Instead, do it with stealth. The raging beast will shrink before your prowess and then hopefully disappear, never to return.

During the creation of my sci-fi novel, Dragon Dawn, Book One of the Dinosaurian Time Travel Series, I found myself with the daunting task of introducing a parallel universe where dinosaurs hadn’t gone extinct on Earth, and one species subsequently evolved to sentience, creating a spacefaring civilization. How would I describe their appearance without info dumping all of the morphological characteristics? In my original version, which has long since vanished into the ozone of Delete Land, I tried to put as many physical characteristics into one big, long, boring opening narrative. I’m glad it’s gone, although it might be fascinating to see it now, in all its horrible glory.

Time has passed, and I’ve worked hard to develop my craft, ridding myself of the aforementioned beast along the way. Since Dragon Dawns opening sequence has saurian astronauts discovering an alien on Mars, this gave me the opportunity to avoid the dump by comparing and contrasting the alien’s appearance with that of a saurian astronaut-physician, who is examining him for the first time.

From Dragon Dawn:

…They passed through a vast chamber of glittering amber walls and stumbled upon a door. A handprint had been carved on it, the figure in bas-relief, three-fingered with long claws. Incredibly, the alien print nearly matched their own trio of digits.

How is this possible? Shanash stood for a long moment. As a physician-scientist, she knew the enormous evolutionary odds against such a thing happening. Puzzled, she reached out and touched the handprint, but after barely grazing it with her gloved fingers, she pulled back. What lurked beyond the door?

Or who––?

The door shuddered and then swung wide, the space around it alive with whirling motes of dust. Mustering her courage, Shanash stepped into a vacant chamber and surmised it was an airlock. With a wave of her hand, she motioned for the others to follow. The door automatically closed, sealing the room tight for pressurization. Shanash heard a deep whoosh as air rushed in, yet she and her companions remained safe within their spacesuits, for the atmosphere here was surely alien and unbreathable.

On the far side of the airlock, another door opened, revealing a chamber with a large, rectangular structure of polished red stone. It resembled a queen’s sarcophagus from Erraz, an ancient Shurrrian civilization. Could this possibly be an alien tomb? And if so, who was buried inside?

Shanash stared at the tomb, transfixed, and then roused herself, beckoning everyone forward. Straining with the effort, they pushed and pulled on the heavy lid and forced it aside.

An alien rested within, copper-skinned and perfectly preserved.

Breathing deeply, Shanash willed herself to a semblance of calm, knowing she must examine the corpse with scientific detachment. The creature looked much like her species, the head containing sensory organs – eyes, nose, and mouth – the trunk broad and powerful, with paired appendages, two arms and two legs. Yet it retained a structure saurians no longer possessed, a long and well-muscled tail that she guessed the alien had once used to wield a mighty swipe.

Through her helmet’s headset, Shanash listened to her colleagues as they studied the creature: “It appears to be asleep – so well preserved.”

“Yes, like someone in a nesting bed.”

“Did you see that?  Is it breathing?”

“By the Goddess, it’s alive!”

“What?” Shanash moved in closer, almost within touching distance of the alien. Unexpectedly, she detected a hum, faint at first, but steadily growing louder, until a great rum rum rum echoed in her ears, the sound traveling all the way back to Shurrr, or so it seemed.

She reached into the sarcophagus and touched the shimmering cloth covering the alien’s lower torso. Through her gloves, she could feel a vibration. Was this a stasis-vault instead of a tomb?

As if in response, the creature groaned and blinked its eyes – blue eyes. Stunned, Shanash fell back, bumping into the others, their startled hisses echoing within her helmet as they ran for the door…

How many physical characteristics did I work into this segment? Three fingered hands.  Sexual dimorphism. Heads with sensory organs, and trunks with two arms and two legs. The creature’s powerful tail, which the saurians lack because of evolutionary reduction. There are many more if you take a second look. Will readers be able to visualize not only the saurians, but the alien as well? I hope so! Throughout the novel’s first chapters, I added even more information, such as the saurians’ head feathers and greenish, snakelike skin. And the info weaving doesn’t stop there. Until the very end of my story, I blended other facts and interesting snippets of information into dialogue and narrative, giving my readers a sense of other universes and disparate paths of existence, a glimpse of “what might have been.”

Writing is difficult, but your efforts at creating the best possible work will be rewarded. After months of rewrites, the final proof of Dragon Dawn gave me much satisfaction. The only beasts found were my fictional characters – the info monster had vanished. Dive into your research and find those treasures, but take your time and weave them into your story with care. Your readers will thank you.

DragonDawnAbout Dragon Dawn:  Two Universes, One Soul Divided…

Time snakes between alternate universes.  Ever watchful, an alien intelligence survives on Mars, waiting to be found by spacefarers from Earth.  The alien’s ultimate goal is to send human astronauts back in time, where they will alter the past and thwart the extinction of the dinosaurs.  A race of intelligent dinosaurs, resembling the alien’s extinct species, subsequently evolves to rule the world.  But a human female astronaut, through a strange twist of fate, survives the change in the space-time continuum.  After finding herself in a dinosaurian body, she must race against time – and the formidable alien – to restore the universe to its rightful course.


DeborahOneillCordes-2About Deborah:

Deborah O’Neill Cordes is an award-winning screenwriter and novelist of historical and speculative fiction. She is the author of the sci-fi time travel novel, Dragon Dawn, Book One of the Dinosaurian Time Travel Series, which blends fields of study she loves in equal measure; Deborah holds a bachelor’s degree in zoology and a master’s degree in history. She is also the co-author of the Morgan O’Neill time travel novels. Deborah resides in the Pacific Northwest with her husband and two West Highland White Terriers, who, alas, are precocious terriers and therefore never white.


Deborah’s website:

Morgan O’Neill website:

Buy links:




Stay tuned next week for Elaine Calloway who shares how to listen to your inner voice while editing!

April 18th – Elaine Calloway

April 25th – Jana Richards


  1. Welcome to R&B, Powerful excerpt, Deborah. I love your monster analogy.

  2. Thank you, Carole. I wouldn’t want to meet a monster in real life, but I love to write about them!

  3. Many thanks to Sharon Clare for inviting me to post on Romance and Beyond! Writing this piece gave me a new perspective on my old penchant for the “dump.” 🙂

    • Our pleasure, Deborah, and same here. You’ve made me look at my story more critically. And interestingly enough, today at a critique meeting, it was suggested I put back information I’d recently cut. Seems I’d trimmed a little too much.

      Thank you so kindly for your article!

      • Sharon, there you go! You’ve given me an idea for another article; this time about how you can cut too much. lol Actually, an author walks a fine line as a researcher and writer, dancing the tightrope dance in order to get things just right.

  4. Deborah, I loved seeing this post as I’ve had a similar experience writing historical fiction. I learned how to skin a raccoon and make a raccoon hat but all that made it into my final draft was that my character did that. By contrast, I also learned how to load and fire a musket and used that sequence as part of my action. It added reality and brought the reader right into the story so I used it.
    Great article!

    • Thanks for your kind words, Elaine. Isn’t it amazing what we have to learn as we do research for our novels? I’ve practiced with a bow and learned how to shoot an arrow (I was actually a natural shot – I swear I’m reincarnated). I’ve also made a fire from kindling and a flint strike-a-light (that was not a natural act for me – where’s the lighter? lol), as well as skin and butcher a bear (I was able to do this virtually, thank goodness). I have a question for you – were you a natural shot with the musket? 🙂

      • Wow, you ladies are impressive. The only thing I’ve ever skinned is a chicken from the grocery store.
        I did do major research on soap making for my historical, and then slowly editing it back until there was nothing left about soap making in the story. Maybe another book.

  5. Brilliant post Deborah…the info dump is such an issue when you do so much research and feel so clever with all this new knowledge, its hard not to want to show it off! But there’s such an elegance in the way you shared your own research in your excerpt and in the rest of your amazing book. You’ve grabbed me just in time to stop an ego info dump in my ms :-).

    • Thanks for stopping by, Joanna. Your research always shines in your novels, not an ego dump in sight. 🙂

      • So True, Joanna, we go to such trouble to research, it’s hard not to use it, but edit we must 🙂

  6. It’s really hard to sometimes know when to cull information. I imagine it’s when you’re own attention wanders when you’re writing it. Really interesting post Deb.

    • Good point, Rowena, it would be a good exercise to remove ourselves from our story and read it like someone who likely doesn’t need a lesson on soap making.

    • Yes, you’re right, Rowena. I frequently use that method – reread, sometimes over and over again (!), and if my mind wanders, then I change it up, or edit it down. I also find it helps to put the manuscript away for a time. That way it seems fresh on the next reading. Thanks so much for stopping by!

  7. Great post, Deborah! I tend to lean the other way when it comes to information and descriptions, so fleshing out without going overboard is a challenge.

    • Thanks for your insight into this, Brenna. I also use the fleshing out approach. That process usually takes place after I write the initial scenes. It certainly is a give and take effort, with lots of reworking. I’ve heard some writers sit down and pour it all out in one sitting. I have no idea how they do that. For many of us, it’s a long process of editing, and then re-editing over and over again.

      • I’m with you both, Brenna & Deborah. I will often write a scene and just put the words – describe castle or kiss. I flesh em out after the rough draft is done.

  8. Wonderful post! I struggle with dumps, too–less with technical information than backstory that I really want to include. I’m mired so deeply in a work I love but that has too much backstory that I’m considering finishing my other ms first so I have longer to hash it all out. One of the things I marveled at in Dragon Dawn was how fascinating you made all the science without taking a thing away from the characters and their story.

    • Thank you for your support, Leslie. I’m so glad you liked Dragon Dawn. And yes, backstory is critical to any novel, yet too much can drag it down. You’ve always had the perfect amount in your stories, so I’m confident you’ll hash it out and create another winning book! I’ve done much “hash slinging” in my day, as well. It’s part of the process. 🙂

      • I agree, Leslie. I love the science in Dragon Dawn, but then I have a science degree, so I love anything science oriented.
        I think it’s a good idea to step away from our stories sometimes to gain a new perspective.
        Thanks for visiting!

  9. You have one of my favorite covers, Deborah. Here’s wishing you many sales!
    -R.T. Wolfe


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