Infodumps are no fun for reader or writer. As a writer, you worry whether or not you're telling or showing, if the information fits where you put it, and how to get critical information to the reader without dumping it over their heads. As a reader, you skim the boring parts where nothing happens, and if there are too many of those, you stop reading that book.
But infodumps have their place just like everything else. They can be extremely helpful in a first draft when you're still figuring out your story and how things work. Embracing the infodump in an early draft can help you avoid it in the final draft. It's also a handy way to convey information you can't slip in naturally. (as long as it's not overdone)
What is an Infodump?
Infodumps are chunks of information "dumped" into the story to explain something. They're kind of like author footnotes (but in the text) because they stop the story and offer information the author feels the reader needs to know. Often it doesn't fit, doesn't sound like the character, and feels like information jammed in where it doesn't belong. If you've ever been reading along and suddenly thought "why are you telling me this now?" it's probably an infodump.
Brainstorming on Paper
If you're not the type of writer who has everything planned out exactly before you start writing, odds are things are going to develop as you write. If you're a pantser, it's all going to happen that way. You'll probably find several instances where you need to explain how something happened/worked/occurred/is relevant. You'll have two options:
- Explain it and move on
- Stop writing to figure it all out
Dumping the Dumps
If you already have infodumps in your text, getting rid of them can be trickier. Unlike adverbs, there's no easy thing to search for. But infodumps do have some favorite places they like to hang out.
1. Introduction of characters
It's not uncommon for a character to be introduced, and then hear a paragraph or two all about that character. Information that provides context for the scene is fine, but if it starts going into history or behaviors that aren't relevant, you might have yourself an infodump. (and a backstory infodump at that--doubly bad)
2. Beginnings of scenes
You'll also find them acting like tour guides, explaining more about what the reader is about to read than needed. Summing up what happened between this scene and the previous one is also a common infodump. Unless what happened off screen is critical to know, skip it.
(Here's more on infodumps through dialog)
3. Walking into a new place
You'll often hear a lot of information about a new place the first time a character goes somewhere. Sometimes it's just description (different from an infodump), but sometimes it's conveying information the protagonist either doesn't know, doesn't care about, or would never think about at this moment in time.
4. History lessons
This is probably the most common infodump. Be it history about a person, a place, an item in the story, whatever it is, the author stops to tell the reader all about it and why it's important.
(Here's more on the dangers of infodumps)
Fixing the Infodumps
The easiest way to fix it is to cut it, but that's not always feasible. But it's a good first step, so try cutting it and reading the page or scene. If it reads fine without the infodump, leave it out. Be ruthless. Unless it's very obvious that missing information makes the scene confusing or impossible to understand, don't put it back in. Authors often think readers need more than they really do to get what's going on.
If cutting the infodump makes what's happening unclear, then look for the critical details that have to be there. What specifically matters to understand that scene?
Now add that back in, but in a way that the POV character would notice/think/say/feel/convey. Infodumps work when they're kept in the voice of the POV character and sound like something they'd actually say or think. They should flow naturally with the rest of the scene and feel like they belong there, triggered by something someone said or did.
You can usually find a way to show the information you're trying to dump. It might be something someone says, or an example of that information in action.
How do you feel about infodumps? How often do they sneak into your work? How have you managed to avoid them?
Planning Your Novel: Ideas and Structure, a series of self-guided workshops that help you turn your idea into a novel, and the just-released companion guide, the Planning Your Novel Workbook.
A long-time fantasy reader, Janice Hardy always wondered about the darker side of healing. For her fantasy trilogy The Healing Wars, she tapped into her own dark side to create a world where healing was dangerous, and those with the best intentions often made the worst choices. Her novels include The Shifter, Blue Fire, and Darkfall from Balzer+Bray/Harper Collins. The Shifter, was chosen for the 2014 list of "Ten Books All Young Georgians Should Read" from the Georgia Center for the Book. It was also shortlisted for the Waterstones Children's Book Prize (2011), and The Truman Award (2011).
Janice is also the founder of Fiction University, a site dedicated to helping writers improve their craft. Her popular Foundations of Fiction series includes Planning Your Novel: Ideas and Structure, a self-guided workshop for planning or revising a novel, the companion Planning Your Novel Workbook, and the upcoming Revising Your Novel: First Draft to Finished Draft, and Understanding Show Don't Tell (And Really Getting It).
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