The info dump is one of the worst sins you can make as a writer.
But what exactly is it? And why is it so bad?
It is the process of giving information clumsily and inappropriately. For sure you need to tell the back-story, describe your character's
personality, and the story's setting. However, all this information should be elegantly woven into the
story, not pasted arbitrarily on, or dumped. (Hence the phrase info dump because you're dumping
information on the page.)
It's bad because it's jarring for the reader. It takes her out of the story to a certain extent because it's
communication from the author rather than the characters. It's a form of telling-not-showing.
Here's an example of how not to do it:
Here's a better version:
It was a sunny April day in Ireland, and I had just got dressed up. I hoped my husband Dev would appreciate
this - he didn't seem to appreciate me much any more. It was only a cheap dress, seeing as we were broke
I gave myself a final, critical, scrutiny in the mirror, turning this way and that to view myself from
different angles, and I gave myself a nod of approval. I’d do. I still scrubbed up reasonably well, I was glad
to note. Dev would surely have to notice how much effort I had made. He would definitely pay me some sort of
I was wearing a brand new dress (bought at one of the less-expensive chains, given our current financial
situation, but even so I was pleased with it). It was a dark pink halter-neck with a wide skirt and tons of
netting underneath. I wore a cream crocheted shrug over it, given that it was only mid-April. The weather was
exceptionally good mind, but still, mid-April in Ireland? How warm could it be?
The second example is still only 141 words long, but it gets in all the important information: the fact that
she's feeling a bit neglected by Dev, the fact that they're financially challenged, the fact that it's April in
Ireland. (It's always important to get the time and location established early.)
Do you see, though, how much more subtly it gets these facts across? They're slipped in almost incidentally. The
detail about the shrug, for example, not only gives us a better mental image of the heroine's appearance, but
allows us to comment on the fact that it's April and Ireland, rather than say so straight out.
The second example didn't manage to give us the information that the heroine was actually married to Dev, but
that was okay - the information wasn't relevant right away.
Now, of course there will be times for giving straight-forward information, times when you just cannot do it any
other way. But do try to slip the relevant information in subtly whenever you can - it makes for much more
professional and glossy writing.
The "As you know, Bob ..." Info Dump"As you know, Bob ..." is another kind of
info dump. It's when the information is dumped in dialogue rather than narration. So:
"As you know Bob, I met Mary in college, and we fell in love immediately, and have been together ever since.
But now I'm worried about her."
The worry about Mary is the current situation, possibly even the dramatic
question, and the fact that the speaker met her in college etc, is the back-story. But this is a
hugely clumsy way to tell that back-story - indeed, it's a classic info dump.
The whole point is that Bob clearly does know this, and so the speaker wouldn't even refer to
Never, ever, have characters tell each other stuff they know already. Of course they can refer to it, just as we
real people do - but make sure it's done in a realistic way. Here's an example. The situation is that Laura has
just asked her boss to agree to a project, and he's dubious:
“Hm. Look Laura, I’ll be honest with you. I’m a little concerned that you might make a mess of it. That you
mightn’t have thought it through. After all, you do tend to jump into things. Remember the time you decided
you’d try your hand at marketing, and you organised all those coach tours to come here?”
“Yes,” she answered. She knew exactly where this was heading. Was she never to be allowed forget
“Now it didn’t matter, honestly it didn’t. We managed to find hotels in nearby towns for most of them, after
all. And they were nearly all very nice about it, said they didn’t mind staying somewhere different than they’d
expected. And as for that group which was quite nasty, well, you always get some awkward ones.”
Do you see the way the specifics of what Laura did were never mentioned, but yet we, as readers, were able to
figure it out?
That's a much better way of dealing with information.
I recommend that you read some books with a view to seeing how the writers got across the information the needed
to get across. Was it done elegantly? Or clumsily? And what elements made it elegant or clumsy?
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