How to Avoid Writing Info-Dumps

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Easily one of the more difficult aspects of writing a novel is balancing explanation with prose. Giving readers enough information to understand the story without drowning them in particulars.

In other words, explaining without info-dumping.

The reason info-dumps can be so tricky to avoid is because it’s often difficult for writers to determine how much is too much, and oftentimes, in an effort to avoid confusing readers, we overdo it. We explain way too much at once and end up freezing the story altogether to rant on and on about why elements of the story work the way they do. It’s like freezing the action in the middle of the movie to say and now for a little history…

It’s jarring, and it often results in bored readers.

What makes this even tricker is that the opposite problem is one that is just as deadly—not explaining enough, which results in losing readers entirely to confusion and frustration. This is a common problem as well, because as the authors of the story, we sometimes forget that readers aren’t privy to the information we have stored away in our skulls.

The key is to reach a sweet spot in between by spreading the information out throughout the novel.

What this requires is a prioritization of information. Right from the beginning, you need to determine what information is essential for readers to understand immediately— information about your characters, the setting, the world rules, etc. That information should be sprinkled throughout the beginning of your novel.

From there, determine what else is important, but you can hold off on revealing without utterly confusing your readers. History, backstory and more detailed explanations usually fall into this category, and this information should be spread out throughout the middle-end of your book.

Regardless of when the information is conveyed, the important thing is to make sure you spread it out. Have a couple characters talk about something important—then interrupt them. Show us the way your fantasy world works rather than explaining it over the course of a couple pages.

If you strategically sprinkle bits of information throughout your prose, you’ll teach your readers all they need to know to understand your story without drowning them in information—and that’s exactly what you want.

Have you ever written an info-dump? What did you do to fix it? 

Twitter-sized bites: 
Are you drowning your readers in information? Avoid info dumps now. (Click to tweet)
Make your readers happy: strategically sprinkle bits of information throughout your prose. (Click to tweet)


Robin Red said...

I'm dealing with this right now. I wanted to avoid giving my villain a monologue at the finale, so I sprinkled hints throughout to move the plot. It's really tough :(

Ava Jae said...

Ah yes...the evil monologue. Definitely a good plan to spread that out throughout the plot rather than lecturing about it at the end. But you're right--it's not easy. Good luck!

Dany Szelsky said...

Great post! I am no writer myself, but have read many books that accidentally explain too much on one subject, falling in these info dumps.

Ava Jae said...

Thank you, Dany! It's a trap that even published writers fall into, so it's not really surprising that you've come across it in published works as well. They can be hard to eradicate.

Sarah Anne Foster said...

I had a problem in my first draft where my second chapter was pretty much just a big info dump. I realized a big chunk of it would have been much more interesting if I held off until half way through the book. And by dropping hints along the way, the reader will wonder what is going on.

Ava Jae said...

Yes! Holding out on information that isn't essential the initial understanding of the novel is a great way to make sure readers have questions they want to continue reading to try to answer. Fantastic. :)

Jeremy Feijten said...

This is a popular problem, indeed. And have you got some great solutions to spread the information naturally? The know-it-all (Perkamentus, Hermoine, ...) is an easy way-out, but maybe not always the best option.
I quite like action scenes where the characters learn something through experience.

Emily Mead said...

I wrote about info-dumps on my blog, actually! There's a neat trick called The Pope in the Pool. You can go and read it if you want:

Ava Jae said...

I'd never heard of that method, but that's great! Thank you, Emily!

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