Monday, February 27, 2012

Managing Info Dumps

If you're a writer, you've dealt with these.

If you're a reader, you've likely skipped through them.

The extraneous, cursed, clump o' info dump.

So, how do you deal with avalanches of information in your writing? First, ask yourself three questions:

Would the Character Really Think This at This Moment?

The scene is set: your protagonist's father has been murdered in his living room. You, your mother, and your good-looking neighbor from next door all heard the gunshot and rush to the scene at once. Your protagonist is in shock, of coursehe loved his father. Shock, grief, and he falls to his knees by the body, sobbing and cursing God. The neighbor hovers nearby, hand over her mouth. She can't believe this is happening.

She looks so beautiful when she's surprised, thinks protagonist. She hasn't looked so surprised since her 12th birthday, when I gave her that seashell bracelet. Back when we were still friends. I remember the day she forgot about me, wrote me off like a shipment of expired milk...

Obviously the reminiscing doesn't fit into this scene. So when facing an info dump, ask yourself: would my character really be thinking about this right now?

Does the Reader Need to Know This at This Moment?

How much of the information pertains to that scene, specifically? Perhaps the new technology allowing your Elven* troops to cross the river is fundamental to later chapters, but if the scene is dealing with Gandolf's personal struggle with public speaking and his dire need to impress Aragorn, it might not be the best place to mention steamboats.

Why Am I Including This?

Maybe the Elven steamboat is ridiculously awesome, but you don't need it until book three. Or at all. Is it really worth interrupting Gimli's battle plans to mention it?

Once you've diagnosed your info dump, consider the following treatments:

Less is More

The reader doesn't always need to know every detail for the story to work. That said, readers are generally smart people; they can put two and two together without you spelling it out for them. Sometimes more details only muddle the picture. Often a few choice words will convey all the information you need.

A Sentence Here, a Sentence There

Have you looked over your info dump and determined all the information is relevant? Don't type it in as a block chunk; break it up with dialogue, action, plot, or other character interaction. Slip it in a little at a time so the reader has time to absorb. Like morphine.


*Please, please don't write a book about Elves. 


  1. Such good advice. My editor says I need more info, most of the time. Lol

  2. you really, really, REALLY need to read the Artemis Fowl books. I am 110% sure that you will like it. And you might not even notice that there are elves in it.

  3. I love your first example. :)

    Infodumps sure can be hard to weasel out of sometimes. Good suggestions!

  4. Oog. Just editing after reading your post and I feel like I'm seeing things I hadn't noticed before. Oog.