How to Fix Info Dumping

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.

Example of Info Dumping:

Cathy looked down at her dress. It was the best one she could find. Her husband’s business had tanked, and she had sold her fancy dresses in order to pay the bills. Since her friends didn’t know, they had invited her to the annual social fundraiser. She was determined to go. Her husband, Greg, didn’t think it was a good idea. She had met Greg when his business was booming. As he had come from a long line of wealth, she assumed she would never find herself in this position. But here she was. She wasn’t going to let Greg’s mistakes cloud her social life.

 

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.

Example of Info Dumping in Dialogue:

Cathy looked down at her dress. It was the best one she could find. Turning to her husband, she said, “I had to sell all my good dresses to pay for the bills since you made that bad business decision. I never thought I would see this day. When we met, your business was booming, and since you came from a long line of wealth, I thought we would never struggle this way.”

 

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 it is told from reader’s perspective in terms of 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 reader to know in that moment.

Once you have determined whether it is necessary in the moment, try the following:

  • Delete anything that it 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 information that is left, figure out if there is a way to build a scene around that information. A scene will be much more interesting than an info dump.
  • Alternatively, you could build the information into an existing scene.

Example of Steps to Fix Info Dumping:

Let’s say the reader needs to know that Cathy used to be picked on a lot as a child. Originally, the author told this information four-paragraph info dump, describing why she was bullied, how she was bullied, and how it affected her.

  • Looking closely, the author determines it isn’t important for the reader to know how she was bullied and the affect it has on her can be show throughout the story. So that information is deleted from the info dump section.

 

  • The fact that she was bullied remains.

 

  • If the author already has a scene where another character is being picked on, they can have Cathy react, coming quickly to the character’s aid and acting very defensive about it, and then she can make a comment to indicate she understands what it feels like.

 

  • Alternatively, the author can build in a scene. Perhaps a character makes a slightly rude comment to Cathy, and she reacts and makes a comment about how she hates bullies because they ruined her life.

 

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 is distracting 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.

Example of Brief Flashback Done Well:

The brief flashback is in italics, and then you can see the scene moves on with the forward motion.

“Cathy, I’m looking forward to your presentation this afternoon,” her boss said. Returning what she hoped looked like a confident smile, Cathy pressed her hand to her stomach to keep the nerves at bay. She walked into her office and rubbed her temples. Remembering the last time she gave a presentation in high school, she reminded herself she isn’t that girl anymore. But the taunts of all the school kids still haunted her. She couldn’t go down that route. Using the breathing exercise her therapist had taught her, Cathy stilled her heart and looked up just to see Mark walk by her office. She ran out to flag him down. “Mark, do you think I could run my presentation by your one more time?”


Bottom Line

  • Fix info dumps that are longer than a few sentence
  • 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.

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