Monday, January 5, 2015

Avoiding the Info-Dump

It's a problem every single writer faces. Everyone. Really.

How much information should you divulge to the reader at once? Or: how much information is too much, and how little is too little? There's dangers to both: too much information at once can slow the reader down and become monotonous; too little will leave your reader utterly confused. You need to paint the picture of a world one color at a time, and even something like the genre can influence the amount of information you need to overall include in your narrative (for example, fantasy novels might require more information from the author to the reader than a gen fic/contemporary).

If you're still in the first draft of your novel, try not to worry about this too much; if anything, info-dumping in the first draft could just be your way of mentally sifting through (and then word-vomiting) anything you want to remember. No big deal.

But say you have all of your information, and now you're trying to figure out how to sprinkle it throughout instead of having a big lump of information in the middle of your novel. There's one simple question I like to ask when this happens: what does the reader need to know right at this very second?

Think about it. Is there anything that's pertinent to the reader right now? Maybe your character has a food allergy (to use a very simple example): does the reader really need to know that the character is allergic to peanuts while they're drinking their morning coffee? Wouldn't it be easier for everyone to have the character ask his/her best friend if there are peanuts in the brownies they baked for him/her instead? Or, to up the stakes: somebody purposely puts chopped peanuts in their pancakes to try and kill them. That's a good reason for the reader to know about the allergy. And those are the kinds of instances where that information becomes pertinent and important.

Did your character get a speeding ticket a few weeks back? Explain that only if your character/their parents/their friends are suddenly jabbing them about driving carefully. Not when they're sitting in math class.

Or, like many novels, say your character is just as new to a world as the reader is: consider keeping them on a need-to-know basis. Right now, I'm reading THE NAME OF THE STAR (Maureen Johnson), and it does a really great job at giving the main character, Rory, information about her new-found ghost-seeing abilities only as the information becomes pertinent. Which means she finds out about how one becomes a ghost-seeing person more than a few days before finding out how to get rid of ghosts. Granted, part of the plot is about the others like Rory trying to keep Rory out of the loop, but I highly recommend it as an excellent example of giving the reader the information they need, without overloading them.

If you keep that bolded question in mind when you're trying to spread your information about your novel, you should be in pretty cherry shape. Now, I'm not saying it'll help you solve all of your info-dumping problems, but it's a pretty good place to start. Look at your information, and ask: "Does the reader need to know this right now?" Because, sometimes, it might be able to wait.

Also consider something else: if you have a lot of information to be given to the reader at any particular moment, simply try to keep it natural. Bring it up in a conversation between multiple characters, or at least have it follow logical trains of thought (if you're revealing things through your narrative instead of dialogue).

And I'm leaving this at that before I let this post get too long. Just remember: don't drop all of your information all in one place; keep it out of your reader's reach for as long as you can without leaving them dazed and confused out in the rain.

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The best way to avoid an info-dump, as described by blogger @Rae_Slater: what does the reader need to know? (Click to Tweet)

Don't drop all of your information in one place, but don't confuse the reader. Avoiding the Info-Dump  via @Rae_Slater (Click to Tweet)


  1. This is great! Info-dumps are a hard one, since you have all that worldbuilding swirling around in your head and you're excited for people to know ALL THE THINGS. I really like your question - it's something I'll have to keep in mind while revising, since info-dumps are something I struggle with. There's a difficult balance between giving readers enough information and giving them too much, and often I think it has to do with the timing, like you said. Great post!

    Aimee @ To the Barricade!

    1. I'm so glad you think it's helpful! I know info-dumping is one of my weaknesses; I was actually working on my WIP, today, and forced myself to use my own advice on whether I needed to explain something. It's always been tough. Thanks for commenting, and good luck with your writing!