What's a good way to avoid info dumps?
So are there any good methods of adding information without making the reader want to stab their eyes out from the dullness?
So then the question is, would your character do the info dumping? Most likely not. Do they know all of the information that you are telling people? If yes, then don't mention it unless something relevant to that specific piece of information shows up. Once it does, then you can sneak a bit of info dumping in and hope nobody calls you out on it
If no, then have them struggle to learn about it. Is it something they'd even ask about? Do they misunderstand it? Does it interact with them? These are all fun things, especially if they misunderstand it initially and if you can write it where the reader has an idea that it was misunderstand- ah top notch there.
So, an example I'm going to give is my story's magic. I've gone through a lot of thought on how it works, what it does, what it causes, symptoms of having magic, why it acts the way it does, the types etc etc. I could write at least 3k in info dumping about it (I actually think I have if you clump together all my brainstorming notes) but in my story I think the only thing I've actually told the readers was that it's there and it is a disease that can be fatal with maybe some hints on how it works. It's a huge plot point if I were to info dump it, and it'd def be planting the seeds for the plotline. It would also be growing those seeds.
The reader doesn't need to know about it for it to still be part of the plotline. As long as you give hints and don't write anything that counters what you are planning, you shouldn't need to do the entire info dumping thing. Really, one sentence is all you need to plant the seeds for a plotline (I have one sentence in my prologue that become vital for the end of my story and I have it specifically for the reason of hinting at the end of the story)
Plus, you have to admit, half of the fun in rereading a story is to see what you missed the first time you read it so if you info dump you kind of just... make it more bleh.
Everything you info dump should be able to be mentioned at least once in the entirety of your story- and if it isn't, it simply wasn't important enough to be brought up then. (As heartbreaking as that is, I've got so many backstories that won't be mentioned that it saddens me lmao). So yeah... for info dumping you only dump when something related to it pops up where the POV character will make a connection to it.
So an example from my story would be if someone was sick with magic, I'd just need to write down person A was sniffling with blood dripping down their nose and eyes and then the main character could be like ew it's that disease I better stay away else I might get it too and then bam. It's contagious, a disease, and I've just told the symptoms without having to do a big info dump that. And if you have multiple scenes similar to that portraying different bits of your info dumping info, you suddenly won't have these huge paragraphs of info dump and you can still share the same information.
It takes a lot more time and words but it should help with info dumping because I think the worst part of info dumping is that you are sharing a lot of information in a short period of time. People skim through it, skip it, avoid it and then all that information is lost. If you introduce everything slowly people should pick it up much faster. Plus, a fun thing of reading (fantasy especially) is discovering a world rather than being told about a world.
Anyhow! I hope the ramble helped in some way.
Working the info out of the story means something like footnotes and appendixes - you give a link or reference to where you wrote the info down and allow the reader to choose if he reads that info or not. This can make the info dump very compact as you can write it as a lexical entry without connections to the story.
Working the info into the story means that the charactors in the story have reason to ask the same questions and get them answered - just not as a wall of text. Have them discuss, misunderstand and clarify the info you want to give the reader, and don't place everything into one scene. For example if you want to give info about the history of a town then have the characters go on a shopping spree through several shops, learning different pieces of the story along the way. For example by seeing a statue of a past hero, having the first shopkeeper discuss why his grandfather opened the shop there and the tavern maid give different hints when asked about something and so on.
An infodump doesn't have to be a wall of dusty text...
Consider this when you do your rewrites.
What does the reader absolutely need to know for the narrative to make sense to him? Write that version in whole.
Next up, as the reader is plowing along, what
questions will naturally form in his mind as he is reading. What can you give him to satiate that curiosity that won't spoil the story.
Try to keep yourself engaged in what the state of mind of your reader is at all times. You may be wrong in your assessments, and sometimes you'll miss the mark because you have some built in assumptions that you have not laid out in your narrative. It happens.
To be honest, there is a strong correlation between someone who writes prose others want to read, and people who are good at manipulating others.
Don't get hung up on that. You are like an illusionist pulling a trick that they signed up for, not someone sweet talking another into buying his lunch though the skill set is the same.
To avoid information dumps that make people snore you have to manage your reader's expectations.
For example, instead of writing a paragraph about the history of your world, let the main character meet an old man in a library, who will complain about the good old days. But don't go overboard with it - a short conversation should be enough.
Only show what's important at that moment. If you want to foreshadow anything, a single sentence woven into the dialogue or description it's all you need. You've created the world, now let your characters live in it and show what they see filtered by the knowledge they have. Both your characters and the reader do not need to know everything.
That's the best advice I've found when I started writing. While my story isn't perfect, from the feedback I've received I know that at least I've managed to avoid info-dumping.
I knew little about dance for instance (ironic, my ex spent several years studying ballet in her youth), and a particular scene in the first draft read like an information dump. I spent several hours one evening watching ballet instruction videos and reading the ballet dictionary on line. You know what, after that I was able to convey more information in a few short sentences than I did in several hundred words in the original draft.
In all seriousness, if you are writing a fantasy novel, take sometime to learn to ride a horse. I'm fortunate to live in a community that is almost all horse farms and cul de sacs, but I highly recommend taking the time no matter where you live.
The first half hour of the film is almost nothing but infodumping events and artifacts that will come to play later in the film but at no point does it feel that you are being taught a history class. This is because every scene and word of dialogue is doing two things at once; not just lecturing us on the backstory, but also showing us the consequences of the backstory.
For example, there's a scene where Marty's at dinner with his family and his Mom is telling the story of how she met his Dad. Not only does she explain exactly how when they fell in love (the kiss at the dance), but when she's finished her rather romantic story, we see that Marty's Dad is just watching TV; not paying attention.
It was a clever way to hide the information - by using the characters to explain it in their own biased little ways.
Or set up the situation where explaining is the goal of interaction between the characters because one of them needs to know. Like a warning about traps in a building one of them wants to sneak in.
This method works for things like, say, geopolitical backgrounds (because, honestly, nobody cares), or the intricate details of a magic system (which the POV character either won't know, or already knows and won't be thinking about). The only time you'd add internal details about the magic system would be when the POV character is learning it alongside the reader, and then you should drizzle it out one detail at a time. The method also works for something simple--when your main character Bob is having his first point-of-view scene, he's unlikely to be thinking about his own physical description. When his wife Sally shows up, you might tack on a sentence about her appearance just as a courtesy to the reader, but he already knows her, so he probably won't be spending paragraphs describing her.
This method won't work for everything, so that's where multiple drafts comes in. The first draft always sucks, no matter how good of a writer you are, so just get used to that idea. Get it down on paper first, then come back later to revise it. Delete or change sections that are too awkward, too wordy, or too detailed to fit the flow of the story. The second draft is a great time to remove info dumps, and then gradually, over time, you'll learn how to avoid writing them in the first place (but you'll never completely avoid awkward and wordy spots that need to be fixed later). I do four drafts before releasing to Patreon and RR, and six drafts before releasing an ebook, and I find things to fix on every single draft.
A lot of times you might discover that you're writing the info dump for your own use. If so, just cut it from the story and copy it into your notes.
Other times, you might think you're adding flavor, but you're not. I once spent an hour researching medieval tinderboxes and how to make char cloth, because I thought it was important to know how a group of medieval adventurers would light a fire, and why they might be relieved when their new druid companion took over the task with magic. That one made it to the third draft, because I couldn't quite bring myself to delete it from the second draft, but the truth is, it just didn't add to the story in any way.
That's another method to eliminate info dumps (and other unnecessary sections). Does it add to the story? For info dumps in particular, they tend to add to background knowledge, but they detract from the story rather than add to it. Why would a reader read the story if they already know everything? It's more fun for both the reader and the author if the reader is on a journey of discovery along with the characters.
I was spending ages brooding over whether this or that is important for the plot, but now it's a bit easier to understand how to transform info dumps into something more organic for the story to grow on!
Again, thank you!
Quote:but now it's a bit easier to understand how to transform info dumps into something more organic for the story to grow on!
Even information dumps that are excessive can be awesome if artfully done, like the slow burn narrative of Joseph Conrad's The Heart of Darkness. I have a weakness for stories like that. They feel more natural to me than a lot of what we now do using modern technique's to cut the narrative to the bone. Good example of what I mean in fantasy, Silverberg's Lord Valentine's Castle. The narrative is slow and exposition excessive, but often spellbinding.
For example, if you open the story by talking about a haunted castle, explaining its history, the rumors, the description of how it was built, that's an infodump. If instead, your protagonist has a conversation with someone and they say, "just stay away from the castle," and the protagonist says, "what castle?" and they just turn and won't say more, then the next conversation someone says another thing puzzling about the castle, and so on, the reader gets to a point of desperation to know WHAT'S THE DEAL WITH THE CASTLE? Then, when you talk about the castle, it isn't infodumping any more, because the reader is interested.
This was, of course, a clumsy example. But it's the idea. You make the reader complicit in the worldbuilding. Get them involved. Raise questions first, make them wait a little bit, and then nothing will feel like infodumping because the reader will by dying for the information by the time you give it to them.
A method I find useful is the on the move info-dump, It is incredibly useful for when you are introducing a character to a new environment or need to describe a whole bunch of stuff. Have the character move through the scene as you describe it, this maintains the stories momentum and keeps the action flowing.
Also, keep the information to the characters point of view. you can always have the person start reminiscing or thinking about things if you need to feed a whole bunch of information, to avoid just a wall of text in that case, its a good idea to use a story about the characters past which explains how and why they know what they are looking at.
for example, the engineer knows the flaws in this particular engine - because (insert story about what happened here) this way you present the information as a story instead of pure fact. It makes it easier to read.
The other leftover information you have to judge for yourself whether to keep them or not. If there's no need to keep them, delete them, if there's a need to, think about if you could present it more naturally, or if there's a more fitting place for them.
Remember though, as an author, you may think there is a piece of information that your reader absolutely needs to know, but that might not necessarily be true. In those cases, take advantage of beta readers if you have them...
Fernicus Wrote: Infodumping is a dirty word to some people, others take it and run with it. Whether or not you use it is really up to your style and how well it comes across for the reader.
That's pretty much what I was thinking. This thread is reminding me of the recent thread about Prologues.
Some of the people posting in the Prologue thread seemed to be saying the following (paraphrased in my own words): "Prologues are always bad! Prologues are always a waste of time! Nothing ever needs to be explained to the reader in a Prologue! I never write Prologues! If I start reading a story and it starts with a Prologue, I just skip ahead to Chapter One!"
I thought that was ridiculous. I pointed out that there are several different reasons a writer could have for wanting to put something in a "Prologue," instead of making that material "part of Chapter One." I've seen several bestselling novelists use Prologues in their novels for reasons which made perfect sense to me -- but what Author A was trying to accomplish with his Prologue might be very different from what Author B was trying to do when he started a novel with a Prologue, and then Author C might use a Prologue for reasons wildly different from what either of those other writers had wanted to achieve. All depending upon what type of story each writer was trying to tell, and what sort of information it seemed important to have the reader get "right away" in each case, and whether or not it would make any sense for the main viewpoint character to already know that same information from Day One of his adventures . . . and of course there many other factors which might need to be considered in any given case.
In other words: It's silly to think that one hard-and-fast rule, such as "Thou Shalt Never Write a Prologue!", could reasonably apply to every possible situation that any writer might encounter while trying to organize his or her ideas about what the first several pages of a new story were supposed to accomplish, and how they should be labelled, and so forth.
And I feel that the same basic reasoning also applies to "infodumps." There's even some overlap between the two categories -- one popular function for a Prologue to serve is to feed some crucial background information to the reader in a simple and direct approach -- for instance, as if we were reading a few pages of a "history book" in a medieval fantasy kingdom -- without even trying to disguise this material as "dialogue between a couple of the story's characters." In other words: often a Prologue is a shameless infodump!
So it surprised me when I saw that this thread title asks, "What's a good way to avoid info dumps?", as if they always need to be avoided because there couldn't possibly be a good reason to go right ahead and use one when it's time to explain something pretty complicated to the reader.
I don't know how SkeletonMonarch should handle it, because I don't know what the specific circumstances are in what sort of story is being told, and what sort of data "needs" to be presented to the reader in detail, and whether or not it would make any sense for one character to just "casually mention" some of this in a conversation with another character, etc. It's possible that a few paragraphs of expository prose would be the best way to handle the problem. At least in some cases.
I also don't know how many possible "infodumps" we might be talking about -- there could be a dozen different pieces of "local history" and "the rules of magic" and so forth which each needed to be explained to the reader, one way or another, but not all in the same scene! I can easily imagine a situation where some things about "local history" could, in fact, be worked into a casual conversation between some of the characters -- but other things might need a different approach. There's a classic problem with trying to squeeze lots of exposition into "normal conversation" where it doesn't logically belong -- I've seen this problem called the "As You Know, Bob" Syndrome.
That's when Character A gives a lecture (long or short) to Character B, spelling out in detail something which both characters already ought to know by heart, given their educational backgrounds and so forth. So it becomes painfully obvious that Character A isn't really explaining all this stuff to his friend; he's explaining it to the reader while pretending that his friend is the one who desperately needs to hear it, even though that shouldn't be true.
So in some cases, it might be better to just bite the bullet and sum up, in a few paragraphs, what the hero of the story currently remembers having learned about a certain subject (such as "these are the basic rules of magic") when he was just a schoolboy. Without having him talk the ear off of another character who presumably took the same classes and ought to remember the important concepts equally well.
Many authors find it hard to resist revealing their absolutely awesome and mind blowing and super-unique setting, and thus eagerly spew forth all the details about super awesome kingdoms, heroes, villains, factions, technology, magic historical events and what not.
They want the readers to know just what kind of world the story is taking place in, but they do this not realizing that 90% of it will be immediately forgotten because it serves no immediate purpose. Readers wont commit it all to memory just because you've laid the setting bare with all its details, or make sticky notes of all the relevant points of the info dump so that they can reference it at a later time should they ever get confused. They'll instead forget it all twelve chapters later because most of that info dump never came up again in the following chapters. Worse yet, as the author you're forcing them to slog through all the information that, at that point in time, the reader may not even care about.
So the rule of thumb here is - make sure the information your revealing is relevant or pertinent to the story or the mc at that point in time. Secondly, make sure to spread it out a bit throughout the chapter, or chapters, rather than in one massive clump. Dialogue and character interaction is the best way to disseminate information to your readers. The MC may be entirely ignorant of the information and search for experts on the topic, whom gradually reveal the information you're wanting to share with your readers, all while teaching the MC that very same info as well. Maybe the MC is in a tomb and is finding bits and pieces of history, but is having to piece it all together gradually throughout his/her adventure.
There are many ways to gradually reveal your world and all its intricacies to your readers, dumping it all in one massive info dump however is easily the laziest method.