An infodump = spewing a ton of exposition onto the page. It's too much, too dense, can impede the flow of the story and is unnecessary.
|A Visual Interpretation of an Infodump! Thanks, 2008's Worthing Woodslick!|
BUT here's the thing - if you're a pantser like me, you NEED infodumps in your first draft because you're establishing key characters, locations and plots in your own mind and it's really helpful to get it all out so you can shape ideas as you write. But you reeeeeeeeeeeeeeeally need to get rid of them in later drafts and make notes instead.
(Ssssssssssssssh! Don't tell the professionals I told you that. If you do, they won't let me play in the big boys and girls playground!!!)
There are lots of different ways you might stray into an infodump. Basically, if you spend a large chunk of writing describing something without moving the story forward, you're dumping. Characters may sit and discuss backstory or explain HUGE THINGS OF MONUMENTAL IMPORTANCE in a way that seems contrived or terribly convenient - think of all the Bond movies "NO, MR BOND, I EXPECT YOU TO DIE! But first, let me tell you my EVIL SCHEME!" Alternatively, your main character may monologue internally about the situation they're in (my early drafts are guilty of this). And it's not just limited to characters. You may want to establish a setting and go into pages of detail about its socioeconomic status so it feels real. Or maybe it's a culture you want to describe, or one particular event.
|What is the cultural meaning of TEA?!?!?!|
The problem? Dumping a ton of detailed information onto a reader all in one go is exhausting, confusing and risks being boring. You might tell the reader things they don't need to know, or tell them things that can wait until later. You've got to find a way to slim it down and spread it out. And save the really juicy stuff for big reveals.
Less is more! (Don't you love a good cliche?) Give as little context as you can, and trust the reader to fill in the blanks. And use the lack of information as a method of building tension and the reader's curiosity. Make them want to get through the book just so they can know the whole story!
Think of it like cake toppings! Sprinkles, not dollops!