The Dreaded Info-Dump

dump truck

I had a bit of a breakthrough with my HOA series last week. I’d been struggling for some time about the backstory of a primary character. I knew, at some point, I’d need to fill the reader in about how she developed into the character the reader is introduced to early in Book Three.

Once I had the breakthrough, I immediately sat down to put the information on the page. What developed was a scene in which another character simply asks her, to paraphrase, “What’s your story?” And she tells him.

Does it get the job done? Sure. But it’s what I like to call, an info-dump. (Full disclosure, I think good friend and fellow writer Steve McClain is the one who introduced me to this term). Info-dumps are, by their very nature, effective and boring. My character had a pretty terrifying past, and rather than showing it, I decided to tell it.

To remedy this, I decided to demonstrate the disturbing ritual that she’d been a part of. The other character witnesses it, and then comes to understand her in a way he hadn’t before (as does the reader). Granted, the new scene is still rough, but it reads much better than it’s predecessor. Also, it’s much more exciting to read.

Here are a few tell-tale signs of the info-dump:

1. Only a few characters present. They converse for long periods of time with no forward action or momentum. Information is revealed in large chunks, little mystery remains.

2. Only one character present. Long passages of interior monologue without forward momentum or action. Information comes in the voice of a hand-wringing villain or a much put-upon hero.

See the commonality? No forward momentum or action. Not every scene has to have it, but when you’re trying to show something, it’s a lot better with action.

Until next week, good writing.

1 Comment on The Dreaded Info-Dump

  1. Thank you so much for tackling this topic–the info-dump is something I’ve seen with a lot of stories. Yes, it does tell the reader a lot about a certain character or event. But is it interesting? Not really. A few years ago I read a novel whose title escapes me now. Basically every bit of history was told in the form of info-dump. I think I must’ve fallen asleep at least twice without even getting through a chapter. As a writer of fiction, that is the experience that you want to keep your readers out of.
    So, what can you do if you find yourself writing or having written an info-dump? I’m pretty sure we’ve all done it at least once. You want your readers to be furiously turning pages late into the night, desperate to know the end of your tale, right? Then the info-dump must die. You’ll want to start with a lethal injection of action. As that sets in, rip the blocks of dialogue or interior monologue out of its chest. The info-dump might struggle, but that’s part of the process. Fill the new chest cavity with a good mix of detail and momentum. The info-dump will soon be in its final throes of death, and a new scene will be born. Perform the regular polishing and carry on.
    Write well, write often, my friends.

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