Wednesday, July 29, 2009

Lowdown on Info-Dumping

Exposition. Information dumping. Overlong narration.

What is all of this??

There are all types of ways for writers to convey information to their readers about the plot, character, setting, and theme of their story.

Still, how much exposition/info-dumping is too much?

Most writers know that too much info-dumping can bog down the drama, the plot, and just kill the momentum and your reader’s attention. More importantly, it could be a big part whether the editor decides to send you another R letter to be pasted on your wall or that glorious Acceptance letter and ‘we want to buy your story’ call that we all wish to hear.

So… What do we do about it? How much dumping can we do before it is overkill and derail your story? It’s that fine balance we must deal with while weaving our storyline, plots, and characters together, all the while walking on that thin wire between glorious narration and dumping.

There are ways to give information without imparting a lot of information to your readers and your poor, over-worked, over-wrought editor but still give everyone the background they need to enjoy the story. Besides, we all know that paragraphs and paragraphs of long narrative are skipped by most readers (I do it at times. I’m sure you’ve done it a time or too). This break of attention upsets your immersion into the story, you are so busy skipping long narrative sections that you (or your editor) aren’t diving deep in the story.

Bad. Bad. Bad.

This isn’t good because we often miss a key piece of information that is lying there within all that narrative for you to find and realize how important it is to the entire plot. Umm.. Yikes! That’s not a good thing for you as the writer or you as the reader.

After a bit of searching, I found some strategies for handling info dumping and gently giving this needed and vital information to your reader (and editor) in a better fashion that encourages them to stay with the story. I found this first series from the website of ‘The Rth Dimension – Fiction Writing (

Deductive Introspection-- Character puts two and two together in his head as the reader "watches"
Introspective Reminiscing--One or more characters reminisce about past events crucial for the reader to understand what's happening.
"Stranger in a Strange Land"--Person or alien in an new environment has to ask questions; reader gets educated as the plot develops
"The Briefing"--Character in a new situation is briefed by a more knowledgeable person or persons; the reader listens in
"The Bard"-- Poetry at the start or in the interior of a chapter telling us something about the situation and/or characters (as in JRR Tolkien's LORD OF THE RINGS or Mike Resnick's SANTIAGO)
"Media Blurbs"--Encyclopedic, newspaper, newscasts, e-mail messages or book excerpts at the start or inside a chapter that conveys info (as in Asimov's FOUNDATION TRILOGY; Van Vogt's THE WEAPON SHOPS OF ISHER; Vernor Vinge's A FIRE UPON THE DEEP)
"Strategic Character"--Character specifically chosen by the author so that she's always at the right place at the right time to see something the main character can't
"The Dr. Watson"--the sidekick approach (as in THE ADVENTURES OF SHERLOCK HOLMES)
"Strategic Debate" --two or more characters argue; during the argument, important information is brought out.

There is another technique used in Fantasy and Paranormal stories with world building. It is called “Incluing” which is a technique where the reader will gradually be exposed to the background information about the world – the setting, the history behind a group of shapeshifters/vampires/fae/etc. As a writer, you will clue the readers to the world you’re building without them really being aware that this is what you’re doing.

In essence, this incluing is the opposite of pure dumping. How can this be accomplished. Well here are a couple of more ways (probably duplicates of the above list):

Info is giving out during a conversation between various characters – gotta love the dialogue.

Back ground details are wonderful to be parsed throughout the story

Establish a scene where a character is followed through a daily routine or life

Then the offhand mention of something behind an open door can also establish familiarity to the world and doesn’t call attention to the happening by the reader.

Whether incluing or using some of the other above techniques, just be sure to scatter these wonderful tidbits of information seamlessly through the test. Make sure they don’t bring the plot/drama to a complete and utter halt.

Let everything naturally flow within the narrative and dialogue and the situation will not jar the poor reader/editor out of their immersion into your story.
When in doubt of how to do this, set aside your story, pick up a few books and check out how other authors handle this necessary lesson of writing.

No matter what… Happy writing!!

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