Hiding Information with the 'Pope in the Pool' - Jo-Ann Carson

Hiding Information with the 'Pope in the Pool'

Today I’m talking craft. It’s a how to-hide information post<g>.
Deep in revision mode, I realize that my main problem with pacing is due to poorly constructed info-dumps. Wanting the reader to understand my characters I give them too much information in the beginning. I’m learning that:

  • Some background information doesn’t need to be said, and
  • the stuff that does… must be said in an interesting way

Which brings me to the Pope…
The Pope in the Pool
The second “immutable law of screenplay physics” according to Blake Snyder is a technique he calls, “The Pope in the Pool,” and it deals with this problem.

“…the Pope in the Pool gives us something to look at that takes the sting out of telling us what we need to know.  And does so in a lively and entertaining way.” (Blake Snyder, Save the Cat, p. 125)

It sounds too simple. Let’s break it down:
The problem is:

“How to bury the exposition…[the] details of the plot that must be told to the audience in order for them to understand what happens next. But who wants to waste time on this? It’s boring. It’s a scene killer. It’s the worst part of any complicated plot.” (Snyder,p. 123)

The solution is:
Hide it. Create action on the stage that entertains the reader while you feed them the information they need to know. Kind of like a spoonful of honey to help the medicine go down. Snyder coined his funny title, Pope in the Pool, from a Mike Cheda script called The Plot to Kill the Pope. To give the reader information the writer developed a scene where the Pope swims laps while his representatives share the information. A pope in his bathing suit! The reader’s mind is so intrigued he doesn’t realize he’s being fed facts.
It takes practice:
It sounds easy, and looks easy in a well constructed plot, but it’s not. For example, in one of my stories I tried to distract the reader with a nine month pregnant woman who hated boats, stuck in a boat on a canal in Amsterdam terrified that it would tip at any moment. I thought it was funny. And then I fed her the information. My reviews on that scene have not been good. I’ve rewritten it several times and people still think it stinks. It seems I’ve made my reader hate my heroine for subjecting her pregnant sister-in law to such an event. Which is to say we can laugh at popes but not pregnant women. Back to the laptop. lol
How about you? Do you find it easy to hide information?

0 Replies to “Hiding Information with the 'Pope in the Pool'”

  1. I thought I had the backstory problem licked, but just discovered an older book (still trying to sell it) had not one, but THREE info dumps in the first 100 pages, Am moving chapters around like crazy! By the way, I love SAVE THE CAT.

    1. Hi Phyllis
      I know what you mean. Those sneaky beasts (aka info-dumps) lurk everywhere. It is a great book.
      Thanks for stopping by and adding to the conversation.

  2. I was watching an episode of CSI NY the other night and they did an info dump in a conversation. It took place in the lab where the two men discussed possible techniques they could use. But to me it screamed info dump lol. Funny I might not have noticed it before I started writing. Great blog. I’m going to tweet it. Hope that’s okay.

    1. C.K.
      Okay? It’s awesome. Thanks for tweeting my work. I’m hoping it’s helpful.
      Doesn’t it bug you when “the big guys” get away with murder. The well published writers can do anything they want but if I dare to use an ly word whoah baby do I hear about it from my readers. lol.
      On the other hand I feel for writers who have heavy technical stuff to get across like CSI. They don’t have Popes hanging around their storylines.
      Great to hear from you. Thanks for stopping by, your compliment made my day.

  3. IT’s bad enough in touchy feelly women’s fiction, but the travel mystery is much worse. How to get all the cultural background out without putting the reader to sleep? More snakes and crocodiles I guess.

    1. Hi Judy
      And zip lines! lol [sorry inside joke].
      Yes, I imagine it feels harder to fit in the details in the travel mystery, bit IMHO you do a darn good job of it.

  4. I’m been guilty of info-dumping as well. As you mentioned, it can be a challenge to implement many of these easy-sounding writing technique in our own stories. Your comment “we can laugh at popes but not pregnant women” made my evening!
    Now I’m off to retweet whatever C.K. tweeted about you 🙂

  5. I am going to have to try an info-dump while my heroine is being laced too tightly in her corset, or some such thing. It’s a great idea but I think it will be a challenge to implement. Thanks for the idea.

  6. Reblogged this on Roundabout Forty and commented:
    I HATE exposition. I know it’s sometimes necessary. But come on! Do I REALLY want to read four BORING pages of the “rules” of your story’s special snowflake universe? Umm…no.
    Anyway, I’ve been playing with my storyboard this afternoon, trying to figure out how to NOT be THAT writer when I had a funny conversation with my kiddo. I think I will “borrow” this conversation and slip it into my work in progress. I needed a “Pope in the Pool” moment, a funny way to hide a bit of exposition.
    What’s “Pope in the pool?” Check out Jo-Ann Carson’s post to find out more. I think she did an excellent job of explaining one way to hide exposition in your novel.
    xo Juli

    1. Thanks Juli. I know when I read that chapter in Save the Cat I was dumbstruck. He describes how to do it so well. Thanks for reflagging my post and commenting. I wish you all the best with your writing.

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