What Is Info Dumping?
Info dumping, dumping a large chunk of information (often exposition) in a reader’s lap, is a common problem.
You may find yourself doing this when you feel a reader needs to know certain information but you aren’t exactly sure how to reveal it.
Often this occurs when you reveal information about your novel’s world/society, characters’ back stories, or historical background.
Often info dumping is longer than that; this is just a brief example to give you an idea. In this example the author dumps information without any action.
Info dumping in dialogue
In an effort to avoid info dumping, authors often put the information in dialogue, but this is still info dumping.
Yes, it is coming from the characters rather than the narrator, but it isn’t any better than narrative info dumping.
If the only point of the dialogue is to tell the reader information, then it isn’t natural dialogue.
In the editorial world, we refer to this as “As you know, Bob” explanations. This is when the characters tell each other information they would already know.
Greg already knows this information, so it is unnatural for Cathy to tell him it.
This often occurs when authors are world-building.
If your characters live in a society where it is illegal to stand out from the crowd, to be better than anyone else (Yes, this idea comes from the short story “Harrison Bergeron”), it would be odd for a character to say to another, “Well, you know it is important to ensure you don’t stand out from the crowd, or you will be arrested.” They live in the society, so they know that information.
Many published novels have contained “As you know, Bob” explanations. So watch out for them in your manuscript.
Why It Is a Problem
For one, info dumping is telling instead of showing. Yes, you can’t have a story without some telling, but info dumping is often large chunks, and it stops the story.
Since the information often comes from the narrator rather than a character’s perspective, it takes readers out of the experience.
If a character gives the information from their perspective through dialogue, then it is unnatural, which also takes the reader out of the experience.
And it is boring to read since nothing is actually happening in that moment.
It is just a large chunk of telling. When you go see a movie or a play, the writer doesn’t come out and say, “Now, let me explain some things to you.” No, the story just unfolds naturally.
The audience learns about the characters and the world/society through the action of the movie and/or play.
How to Fix Info Dumping
Go through your manuscript and find areas where you tell chunks of information and nothing is happening in the moment. If it is a sentence or two, it is probably fine. You do need some telling after all.
If it is a longer chunk, then decide whether the reader really needs to know that information. If they do, do they need to know it now in that moment?
When it comes to characters’ back stories or world-building, you only need to reveal the information that is important for the reader to know in that moment.
Once you have determined whether it is necessary in the moment, try the following:
- Delete anything that is not necessary for the reader to understand and know in that very moment. If it is necessary at some point, save it for later.
- With the remaining information, figure out a way to build a scene around it. A scene will be much more interesting than an info dump.
- Alternatively, you could build the information into an existing scene.
The idea here is to remove what isn’t necessary to know in the moment and try to turn what is necessary to know into a scene.
If you can’t turn it into a scene, reduce the info dumping to just a few short sentences.
A word of caution: using flashbacks to fix info dumping
Some authors try to fix their info dumping with flashbacks, but flashbacks can be a form of info dumping. If you stop the forward momentum of the story to have a long flashback in order to reveal information, it can annoy readers and take them out of the experience.
Even though the flashback is written like a scene rather than telling, if it is a long scene, it distracts from the forward momentum.
Generally, readers want to know what will happen next, not what happened in the past.
Flashbacks can work if they are firmly woven into the present story and do not take up much room. When done well, they can create dramatic tension and add texture to a story.
To do this well, keep the flashback brief—a few sentences—and launch right into the forward momentum of the story.
- Fix info dumps that are longer than a few sentences.
- Only reveal information the reader needs to know in the moment they need to know it and try to do so through a scene.
- Don’t use dialogue to reveal information as it results in “As you know, Bob” explanations.
- Flashbacks do not necessarily fix info dumps unless done well.