Tips for Writers: Info-Dumping
Tips for Writers:
What is info-dumping?
You're writing a complex novel. There's info you need to get across to your reader so that they can understand what it going on. You start writing some of it--maybe the character is reflecting on it or a character tells someone a story. You feel like you've got a good grip on it only to realize you've written four pages in a row of backstory. You've just committed the cardinal writing sin of info-dumping.
Info-dumping is when the author gives the reader a large chunk of info all at once usually in narration or dialogue. Usually the author is telling the reader about the setting and its history, it's laws/rules, a character's history or personality, technology, creatures, etc.
Why is info-dumping bad?
It is seen by some as lazy writing, telling the reader instead of showing, or just plain boring since no brain work is involved for the reader. Just telling the reader about the world, character, or history of it simply is not as engaging as showing it. We need to connect to the story and its characters in an emotional way, to care about them. Giving us a list of who the characters are and what they've been through doesn't do that, but showing us how they struggle through obstacles does.
How can we fix it?
If you've done this, don't feel bad. It happens to the best of us.
Get it out of your system. Sometimes I purposely info-dump to get a grip on my world. I color-code it at the start of my manuscript get it out of my system, and then work it in as I write in more effective ways. So this is one way to avoid it. I'm a pantser (write without an outline or plan) author for the most part, but do allow myself this "planning" paragraph to wrap my mind around my world. I only tend to do this with fantasy.
Break it up. Self-explanatory, take these chunks and of info and divide them up in more interesting ways. Perhaps someone is telling a story or having a conversation but they get interrupted which leaves the main character and the reader wondering for another chapter or so until they can be alone again to resume the story.
Add action around the info. As long as there is some action breaking up or preventing a long passage of info, you are no longer committing info-dumping. You're giving your reader and interesting, informative scene. Perhaps two characters are having a conversation/argument that reveals the laws of the land while they're setting the table. Described actions help us see a scene, picturing the two characters while we soak up the info.
What if you HAVE to info-dump?
Sometimes you might feel it is unavoidable. Perhaps it's some historical info about your world or characters and a flashback won't work. Your character needs info but other than someone telling a story, you can't think of a way to get it across. It can be okay if it's engaging--shows personality, irony, a conflict, etc. Think of Harry Potter. In the later books, there's a sub-villain of Rita Skeeter, the journalist. We see her articles and books telling biased information about characters which creates irony, a whole other narrative voice, and sets up a conflict for Harry (how he is viewed and later how Dumbledore is viewed). It's engaging and in a journalistic style that sets it apart from the rest of the text.
We all want to be engaging and for our readers to enjoy our writing, so dump the info-dumping.