Friday, March 22, 2013

Please, No Info Dumps


What Are Info Dumps?
Info dumps are essentially backstory that the writer informs the reader of in a dense paragraph or a few dense paragraphs. Here’s an example:

“Do you have it?”

Before I could stop it, my hand reached for my back pocket. Mark was talking about the illuminator, a rare object that allowed its user to detect lies. I had stolen it a week ago from a warehouse—and just in time too. It was about to be shipped to some wealthy collector in Saudi Arabia.

I’d also nearly lost my life that night. I was still healing from the nasty dog bites and the stray bullet that had nicked my shoulder.

Of course, the job was worth it. Within the short time I’d owned the object I'd . . .

These can go on and on. To be honest, this is not nearly the worst example I’ve seen. After all, this information is interesting and might be relevant later. There are always those info dumps that are wholly uninteresting and unnecessary.

But, if the information is necessary, then why is the info dump a problem?

Problems with Info Dumps
Essentially, info dumps are asides. My excerpt from above is a perfect example of this. Right before the main character gives the reader some backstory, someone has asked the main character a question. Depending on the surrounding text, this might be a high intensity scene.

The info dump pauses the action to fill the reader in. Because action is what generates the book’s momentum and reader excitement, pausing the action thus halts the momentum and decreases reader excitement. However, this shouldn’t be an either-or situation. You can both fill the reader in and not slow down the reader momentum. I’ll discuss this in greater detail further down.

When Do Writers Info Dump?
Writers often info dump towards the beginning and middle of books, although I’ve seen it at the end of certain novels as well.

Why Do Writers Info Dump?
Most of the time info dumps are caused by a lack of premeditated storytelling. When authors don’t plan out how and when events will unfold, they have a tendency of writing out all the important information in one section—an info dump.

Don’t worry if you have done this—sometimes it’s easier to get the words onto the paper than chance forgetting them. Just make sure that you correct them once you’ve inserted them into the manuscript.

How To Fix Info Dumps
Like I mentioned earlier, you can inform the reader and maintain reader excitement, and here’s how:

  • Locate those areas where you have clustered the backstory. (You might have to first identify what your backstory is before you do this.)
  • Once you’ve spotted a section dense with information, separate that information into individual points. Here’s a demonstration using our example above.
    • Defining what the illuminator is.
    • Discussing how and when the main character came to own it.
    • Discussing the wounds the main character sustained when he stole the object.
    • Mentioning that stealing the illuminator was a job s/he took. 
  • After you’ve broken up your backstory into a bulleted list, think about where the best place might be to insert this information. Using our example, the writer might decide to bring up the main character’s wounds while the main character is on the move. If, for instance, the main character is running from someone, and he has a limp, you can conveniently mention the wounds. Or, if while lifting a heavy object, one of these wounds begins to seep fresh blood, there’s another great segue to this backstory.
  • Once you find the perfect location, show, not tell. Info dumps drag on not only because they halt the current action, but also because they are telling the reader something that the reader would rather be shown.

By dissolving paragraphs of backstory and reinserting the information in concise clusters throughout your novel, you'll turn a crutch into leverage. Readers who would otherwise be bored while slogging through backstory might now be piqued by the strange and alluring world they’ve walked into.

Happy writing,

Laura Carlson, Editor
American Editing Services
415.745.1764

1 comment:

  1. Lovely post. Info dumps are a problem for me halfway through a draft, when I've run out of the creative jitteriness of the Shiny New Idea. This is good advice -- I never thought of turning the dump into a bullet point list, and thinking it through from there; my mind's always worked better with lists than random chunks of info. Thanks!

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