One of my favorite writing books of all time is Save the Cat by Blake Snyder.
Save the Cat is actually a book for screenwriters, but is every bit as useful for fiction writers.
In Save the Cat, Snyder offers many tips, but one of the best and in my opinion most fun to play with is The Pope in the Pool.
In every book there is information that needs to be shared with the readers. We all know, or should know, that a big old info dump is to be avoided at all costs. Because of this we try to hide this information by sharing it in dialogue or having the characters experience the act itself. We may even try tricks like having them watch a new show where the information is revealed or find a diary, but many times, any way we slice it, the information is still (important as it is) dull, dull, dull.
So, how do we get it across without driving readers from the page?
Enter The Pope in The Pool.
The term The Pope in The Pool came from a script titled The Plot to Kill the Pope by George Englund. The story was a thriller and as such couldn’t afford a dull scene with people sitting around drinking tea (something Donald Mass warns against extensively in Writing the Breakout Novel) and dumping information. So, the writer came up with a way to relay the information while keeping people’s attention.
He put the Pope in the pool.
As Snyder points out, “We’re thinking: ‘I didn’t know the Vatican had a pool?! And look, the Pope’s not wearing his Pope clothes, he’s… he’s… in his bathing suit!’”
This keeps our attention while the important, dull information is downloaded to our brains. We walk away from the scene wowed and retaining the knowledge that we need for the rest of the story to unfold, while never being bored.
Snyder gives other examples of how the visual image of something like the Pope in the pool can keep viewers involved in what would otherwise be a dull moment, but novel writers don’t get the benefit of the true visual. So how do we use The Pope in The Pool?
Simple. Have your character do something entertaining, either filled with humor or drama while relaying that information.
This could be walking down the street having a conversation and the character getting her heel caught in a grate. While she is pulling it out, the one man so most wants to avoid appears with his new girlfriend. Desperate and still battling her shoe, she spills all to her companion.
Or your character could be giving her dog a bath or dying her hair and failing. There are any number of things that she or he could be doing that in their own rights would be entertaining.
Write those scenes and make them important to your books by using them to relay whatever dull, but important information your reader needs to know.
Put The Pope in The Pool.