You hear the term often, but does every author really know what the term even means or how to avoid it? (I know I’ve certainly written info dumps before….UGH!) Let’s take a closer look.
Info Dump: “an act or practice of presenting an indigestible or incomprehensible amount of information all at once.” —Dictionary.com
Info dumps are precisely what the term implies. It is dumping information on the reader about a character, world, situation, details, or various other things. Chances are very good your information was well meaning. Most often, info dumps are a result of a writer wanting to get everything out all at once so they can get to what they imagine is the ‘good stuff.’
In other words, info dumps are often a symptom of a writer not letting things unfold on the page.
Who cares? Besides, what’s wrong with a little info dumping?
Info dumps give off bad mojo!
• Writers tend intrude on their own work – as if saying, “Whoa! Hold the phone! We can’t have anymore dialogue until the reader knows this! You MUST know this before moving on or my scene won’t make sense.”
• Simply put, it’s like sitting in a classroom. (We all know how fun THAT can be.) Instead of our imaginations taking flight and our minds being swept away to another world, we are pulled out of the story into the real world where the writer wants us to know something. Hold on—will there be a test on this at the end of class? More bad mojo!
• Worst of all—excluding the test we're getting— ALL forward momentum stops, in turn, killing the narrative drive. Then what happens? You guessed it—more bad mojo!
• Lastly, during these info-laden moments, nothing is happening in the present instant in the story. It’s sinking faster than a food strainer in water – there is no more meaning being made.
Where do we find these nefarious little info dumps?
• Honestly, usually on page one! Yes indeed, they most often occur at the very start of your manuscript.
• Or, usually within the first few pages of the first chapter.
• It is a common occurrence referred to as ‘gearing up’ or ‘ramping up.’ Either way, there goes the last of our mojo.
• The writer’s mindset gravitates toward thinking such as: “Here is all the information you need to understand what I’m about to tell you.”
Take notice, info dumps almost always violate the show, don’t tell rule. If you are telling, telling, telling, it's an info dump.
Great! But how do I fix it?
Seriously, the best way to fix the dilemma is to stop—Whoa, Turbo—back up, then decide what you want your opening scene to convey. Keep this thought fresh in your mind as you go: A bunch of information does not add up to a story.
• There must be a point to the words you’re putting on the page and needs to be conveyed as part of the story. The reader wants to be in it as it unfolds.
• Info dumps are most common in fiction where we might not be familiar with the world, especially fantasy, sci-fi, dystopian, or anything magical or historical.
• (I am not picking on these authors, since we ALL do it, regardless of genre.)
• Writers stop mid-story to tell the reader about the way something unfamiliar works. Try this example:
Say two amazing warrior princesses are preparing for battle for ultimate control over all surrounding lands. Swords are drawn, shields are held firm, then, they charge one another!
• BUT, then the writer stops to say why the Maltona princess has an advantage because her sword is magical, coming from a long line of wizard warriors. It’s beautifully ornate and made from the finest metals ever seen. Her father gifted it to her before he died. She thinks of him and nearly losses concentration, and so on and on.… then the scene resumes.
• Ahhh! I know! I feel your frustration! That, my writing cohorts, is an info dump!
Info dumps occur if the writer stops mid-scene to tell the reader how things happen, how they work—like a terrible infomercial. Or, if the author uses dialogue to tell the reader information the characters would clearly already know–like why the warrior women are carrying shields.
A Writer’s Perspective
Some authors tend to ‘push back’ when an editor or coach points out info dumps sites within their manuscript. Why? Because the writer simply can’t see them.
A client once said, “I would have sworn to anyone who would listen there were no info dumps in my story, but I see now that the entire first chapter was an info dump."
Subconsciously, this inability to see is very real. Why? Because you have written the story and the details are crystal clear in your own head. Why wouldn’t they be? After all, you created the words by allowing them flow onto the page from your mind’s eye. But once you realize the reader may not share that precise vision or won't know the same facts as you, writers do an info dump to clarify everything before moving to the next scene.
That’s why it’s so important for a coach, editor, or other objective, experienced person to point out your info dump. It’s all to help that mojo get moving again!
Hopefully this article will clarify things a bit. If not, contact me, research more examples, talk it over with an author friend, or whatever it takes to keep you on the ‘write’ path.
Now that you are aware of pitfalls and what they may look like, they will be easier to avoid.