Character infodump

My current WIP has a cast of characters, a bunch of whom are all first seen by my POV character in a room together. My first draft of this was, upon re-reading, a flood of details that made the narrative not only drag, but flounder.

imagine you’re walking into a waiting room. You look down and see a tortoise. Sorry, attack of literary drift. Seriously: what do you notice when you look around? I went through this exercise going into a radiology office recently. For my PTSDness I first spotted exits, including windows. Then there was the arrangement of the chairs. Then people, starting with only the basic observations: hair color, bags, canes, or other visually interesting bits. Shoes, the floor. Then back to the people, actually noting the ones who caught my eye, or the tableaus in progress (two people helping an older relative sit down from standing at a walker, a young girl, maybe eight or nine, looking scared next to her dad, with short-cropped hair). Then actually checking people out. A woman wearing a 60’s-style, felted, dark blue coat with big buttons in two rows—and apparently nothing but leggings below. The mom with a toddler and a baby in a stroller, valiantly trying to keep them from hitting their boredom wall.

If I described all that it’d be interesting for that one paragraph. But characters deserve attention, to fix them in a reader’s mind. I resolve that (in the book) by interleaving my character’s action. In the above example, he’d walk across to the clerk’s desk and do business while idly puzzling about the woman in the coat. Then turn around, walk past the walker and people, maybe catch a snippet of conversation triggering a background thought. Then try and dodge the mom and her kids, and end up next to the close-shaved girl. Each stop gives the opportunity to really look, and describe, the character. It also is a way for you to go deeper with the POV person: how they react, what memories are triggered, comparisons with other people in the character’s past.

Today’s takeaway: describe characters the way your POV would, starting with details interesting to her or him, and use action to break up the internal monolog.