While I’m on holiday vacation this week, I’ll share a post from my early days of blogging. We’ve all heard of those eye-rolling, telling “information dumps,” yet at some point, we all have to get chunks of information across to the reader.
My usual technique with world-building is to show, show, show, but sometimes that’s hard to do. Other times, simply plopping our readers into the middle of a world leaves them confused. So circumstances might require us to do some amount of “telling.”
In that case, we want to make the telling as interesting to the reader as possible so they aren’t pulled out of the story. Here are four tips I shared a couple of years ago about how to make information dumps interesting.
How to Fix the Infamous Info Dump
Info dump? Infamous? You better believe it. The most egregious offender even has a name: the “As you know, Bob.” Imagine dialogue along the lines of, “As you know, Bob, Jane is our sister.” *cringe*
Does anyone actually speak like that? Would you ever tell someone something they already know? Nope. (Unless you’re reminding your spouse that the garbage still needs to be taken out, that is.) The sole reason for that dialogue is to share information with the reader. In other words, an info dump. And just because plenty of info dumps are less obvious, it doesn’t mean they’re less problematic.
In a continuation from my other posts on driving scenes and description scenes, I’m adding info dumps to my list of things to avoid when you’re trying to “skip to the good parts.” If a passage isn’t moving the plot along, developing a character, adding tension, or engaging the reader—it shouldn’t be there.
Yes, even if it gives the reader vital information.
But—But… Then fix it.
How to Fix an Info Dump Passage
The same things I mentioned above for what would make a passage “work” are the same things to add when you can’t delete or tighten an info dump any more.
- Move the Plot Along: Make the info dump relevant to the current scene and the characters in the scene—that way it’s not there only for the reader’s benefit.
- Show two characters arguing about a point of information, a character realizing how some issue will affect them, etc.
- Character Development: Make the info dump relevant to a character’s current emotional arc.
- Show a character reacting and changing based on the information.
- Add Tension: Make the info dump something that causes problems for the characters.
- Show a character realizing the danger they’re in, or show their dread as the info dump story is shared.
- Engage the Reader: In short, all these techniques come down to making the info dump relevant.
- Make it matter to the characters and it will matter to the reader.
There are many times when a reader must be informed of details. In science fiction, fantasy, and paranormal stories, this is known as world-building. The reader won’t know the rules of the world (do they have transporters?, does magic exist?, what abilities do these vampires have?) without being shown or told. Obviously, it’s better to show if you can. But it’s not always possible to do that in a smooth, natural way.
In the fish-out-of-water type plots, the main character is just as lost as the reader. Frequently, a mentor of some kind will show them (and the reader) the ropes. In one of my manuscripts, I have an entire chapter that’s essentially this type of info dump. I struggled with how to make this chapter work until I used my own advice. Now I use all of those techniques at some point in the chapter to keep the plot moving and the tension high. I might not have it completely fixed yet, but there’s no question it’s much improved.
Are you usually able to “show” readers the information they need to know? Do you ever have to “tell” readers information? How do you make that telling as interesting as possible? When do you struggle with info dumps? What have you done to fix them?Pin It