Last month while I was at a critique group, before I began to read my chapter out loud, I asked for them to look for Info Dumps. When I was finished I asked if anyone noticed any. Each person shook their head and said no. Phew, my little plan worked.
I had actually inserted a ton of info into the scene, but no one even noticed. The reason for this is because I turned it into a conversation between two and then three people.
I will describe what an info dump is.
Info dumps are chunks of information “dumped” into the story to bring in back story or information. They usually stop the story and interrupt the flow. They are often author footnotes that the author feels the reader needs to know. More often then not, it doesn’t sound like the character and feels like information shoved into where it doesn’t belong. The reader might begin to daydream or think “why is the author telling me this now?” Blah, blah, blah. An Information Dump occurs when background information is not interwoven with the narrative. Scenes in a playscript are often introduced with a brief information dump to explain the situation the characters are in. Blah, Blah, (have I lost you yet?) In serial television dramas, information dumps often appear in episodes as a brief montage of scenes from earlier episodes, prefaced with the phrase “Previously on [name of series]”. blah, blah, blah (Half of this paragraph are my words, other half was found in Wikipedia)
“What did you just explain to me?” the person sitting at the computer asked with glazed over eyes.
“An Info Dump,” I replied.
“What is an Info Dump?”
“When the author crams in a bunch of unnecessary detail that makes the reader bored to death,” I answered simply.
***See, isn’t that basically what I needed to say?***
??? How to fix Info Dumps ???
* For me the best way to fix this problem is to include large amounts of information into a dialogue or better yet, an argument between characters. This way, characters can debate and you can sprinkle in inner dialogue and body language to show the reader more details about the scene. Of course, don’t have the conversation last forever either. Interrupt the characters, etc. The scene will then become fast paced and, like the above example with my critique partners, people seem to not even notice.
* You can also sprinkle bits of information and knowledge along the way so it doesn’t become one long piece of narrative.
* You can have the info dump become a problem between characters that brings in tension. The scene and characters can change and react as more bits of information and backstory are revealed.
* Try introducing an uninformed character. This person comes into your novel mainly to uncover details and history. You can bring information into your story by having your characters explain things to this new innocent person.
* Relate the information to what is currently going on in the novel. Have your tangents be current in the storyline. Maybe something happens to your character that sparks a short memory therefore causing a conversation starting with “remember when…”
Sharing information in your novel is a balancing act between giving the reader enough information that they don’t become confused — and not giving them too much that they become frustrated and bored.
To illustrate my point, here is a tidbit from my work in progress.
“Sage?” He was looking at me with eyebrows raised.
“Huh?” I asked. “Did you ask something?”
He rolled his eyes, “I asked if you have seen many wolves when you’ve been out.”
“Oh.” I cleared my throat and sat taller in my saddle. Good, small talk is good. “Not lately, but I’ve seen clues that the packs are growing bigger.”
He nodded. “Do you remember after all the lawsuits and debates, wolves were reintroduced to Yellowstone in 1995?”
I shrugged and he continued, “it was before we were born, but I remember my Dad cursing those dang wolves. He would always get a healthy check from Defenders of Wildlife from their compensation fund. His livestock decreased by 50% because of the wolves.” He adjusted his wide brim cowboy hat.
I smiled. I always loved it when he did that.
He shook his head not knowing I was watching him. “And that was years and years ago. I worry that they have a monopoly over the food supply.” He continued, “Did you know. . .”
I settled down into my saddle. Whenever he started a sentence with “did you know,” it was a sure sign that you’d learn something cool, so might as well get comfortable. Joe knew a lot about a lot of things, especially those issues he was passionate about. He was always reading from the countless books of my fathers. I knew this was going to be a long debate or lesson in wolves.
“. . . the gray wolf is one of the world’s most well researched animals, with probably more books written about it than any other animal I found all these awesome old black and white sketches of wolves in Yellowstone before 1926. Because, you know, that’s when the last wolf was killed in Yellowstone.”
“Hmm, interesting.” I said wondering where he was going with this.
His eyes lit up when he realized I was kind of contributing to this conversation. “Well, when the wolves were no longer here, the elk population boomed.” He lifted up his hands and spread them out. “I mean so large that they unbalanced the local ecosystem.”
“That’s weird, how so?” I asked.
“The herds grew so large that when they grazed over the meadows and river beds, they trampled over all the new-growth and small trees. So in the end, that’s why the decision to reintroduce wolves won out.” He was quiet for a while as we watched night drip around us. “So in essence, wolves have the power to change the land. They are an apex predator, only humans are their real threat. But I am afraid, because now — there are more wolves then there are humans.”
This was also pre-edit. I will slim even more of this conversation to just get to the bones of the information. I left it in so you could see the full conversation. I would love to hear if any of you have other ways that you avoid the info dump. 🙂
Have a good day 🙂