BOOM! Infodump!

Infodumps get a bad rep, and you know why? BECAUSE THEY'RE BAD! (Except when they're good.  I'll get to that).

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!

...mmmmmm cake.

Comments

  1. "Give as little context as you can"

    I humbly disagree. This would make for a book that I would hate. Which goes to show that the principles involved in writing a good story vary with each story. It all depends on what kind of story the author wants to tell. "Less is more" is not true of every story. NONE of the advice is true for all stories.

    In my opinion, infodumps can be really, really good. Like everything else, they are only bad when done badly.

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    1. How right you are - nothing suits everything. I, for one, should never wear orange :P

      I'm quite curious how you would wield an infodump, if you wouldn't mind sharing!

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  2. This is an interesting topic. I was all ready to come here and say "Me, too!" Especially when it comes to setting. I dump a lot of silly stuff. But reading Sarah's comments make a lot of sense to me as well. I tend to give too much info about the setting. The difference is that it's information and not necessary detail.

    I think details of a setting help make the setting come alive. My info dumps are my brain's way of putting placeholder text and then coming back to flush it out a bit in the next draft.

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    1. I use infodumps much as you do - get EVERYTHING OUT, then cut it down in later drafts.

      It's definitely a delicate balancing act!

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  3. I agree that infodumps in the first draft are for the author. Well, they are if you're a pantser like me. I tend to go off on tangents in the first draft that need to be cut back at a later date.

    As a reader info-dumps are the enemy.

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    1. High five, fellow pantser!

      I agree - as a reader I get bored if an infodump is going on and on and not revealing anything interesting. Not sure what that says about my attention span.

      Delete
  4. Now I want cake. And I totally agree--info dumps are fine in the first draft (just like abbreviated scenes are too!) as long as you cut them in later drafts (and flesh out those short scenes).
    Okay, seriously. CAKE. ^_^

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    1. I totally need more cake in my life too :P

      I've had a lot of fun switching out infodumps for fleshing out shorter scenes. Hopefully, an agent and then a publisher will one day approve!

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  5. I couldn't agree more... am editing right now, and it is hard to decide what stays and what goes:)

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    1. I found the further I got into edits, the easier it was to tell what was and wasn't necessary. Then my beta reader cleared up more issues :)

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