Most Common Writing Mistakes, Pt. 50

Most Common Writing Mistakes, Pt. 50: Info Dumps

Most Common Writing Mistakes, Pt. 50

On its most fundamental level, a novel is nothing more or less than the dissemination of information. As such, the writer who understands exactly how and where to share information is a writer who understands the most fundamental skill of storytelling.

That’s why info dumps are such a big, bad deal. They’re peanut butter in the delicate gears of your story’s machinery. They’re clunky, awkward, and they gum up the works—sometimes fatally.

We sometimes consider info dumps a noob mistake, and yet the dance of avoiding them is actually one of the most complicated challenges faced by any writer on every single page of a story.

Today, we’re going to explore four possible types of info dumps that might have wormed into your story. More than that, we’re going to look at, not just how to avoid this common writing mistake, but how to use it as an opportunity to make your writing that much stronger.

What Are Info Dumps?

First off, the basics. An info dump is exactly what it sounds like.

Imagine you, the Storyteller, are, in fact, a construction crew chief, in charge of building a complex and beautiful mansion.

Now visualize everything you know about your story—plot, characters, backstory, research, everything—as the necessary resources to build that mansion. We’re talking the planks, the bricks, the nails, the cement, all that stuff.

Now, imagine you arrive at the construction site one morning, put on your hard hat, sip your coffee, and look at a pile of bricks. Those bricks belong in the house. They’re important to the finished construction. But… you don’t know quite where they belong. So you order your guys to put all those bricks in the back of the nearest dump truck and (you guessed it) dump them unceremoniously right smack in the middle of that beautiful house you’re building.

Dump Truck

Not so beautiful anymore, right?

That’s how info dumps work within your story. The author has this information he believes is important to the story. But instead of gracefully and skillfully sowing it into the story, he dumps this huge chunk of info into his unsuspecting reader’s lap.

4 Types of Info Dumps

Info dumping is bad storytelling. More than that, it’s lazy storytelling. And it’s more common than you might think.

Let’s take a look!

1. Backstory Info Dumps

This is arguably the most common type of info dump, simply because its main ingredient—character backstory—is present in every single genre.

Sometimes, it can be tricky figuring out what to do with backstory. Do you include it? Do you leave it out? If you do include, where do you include it? And how do you share it? Flashbacks? Dialogue? Narrative?

Too often, overwhelmed and exasperated writers just end up dumping in backstory at the earliest possible moment, even (horrors!) the opening paragraphs.

Don’t Do This: Backstory Dump

Andy grew up in a small town. His parents were both dead before he graduated high school. He had the opportunity to leave and make it big in the city, but he loved the country, so he stayed. He married his next-door neighbor, got a job right off, working for Sheriff Poindexter, and when Old Man Poindexter retired, he naturally took over. But then tragedy struck, his wife died, and, heart-broken, he was left to raise their son by himself.

Do This: Backstory “Weave and Wait”

Backstory rarely belongs in your story’s beginning (readers will not care about your character’s backstory until you’ve given them a reason to do so). In fact, backstory dumps like this are rarely necessary, much less skillful, at any point in the story.

Whenever you feel tempted to tell readers all about your character’s backstory, try the “weave and wait” method instead. Weave only the most interesting and pertinent parts of your character’s backstory into the narrative, but wait until those aspects actually become necessary to advancing the plot or understanding the character.

Even when the backstory becomes necessary, don’t dump it. Use subtext, seemingly off-hand comments, and plot developments to reveal what’s going.

How to Do Backstory Right

That backstory dump above? You might have recognized it as, essentially, the backstory of Sheriff Andy Taylor from The Andy Griffith Show. In the show itself, that stuff is never dumped. We learn about his dead wife, his son, and his job through the natural progression of the story. His decision to stay in a small town and the particulars of how he became sheriff are all revealed only when they become necessary to the story.

Andy Griffith Taylor Opie Ronnie Howard Mayberry

2. Worldbuilding Info Dumps

This one is most commonly found in speculative fiction—fantasy, science fiction, etc. These types of stories necessarily bear a greater burden when it comes to making certain readers understand the unique “rules” of the made-up world.

If there’s no gravity on your planet, or the Prime Minister has two heads, or the protagonist is telepathic—that’s all important information that not only needs to be established, but which very likely needs to be explained.

Spec authors are usually enthusiastic about explaining the hows and whys of their world—to the point that their stories can sometimes end up more info dump than story. I remember one unfortunately memorable example in which the entire novel basically read like the student protagonist’s Magic 101 textbook.

Don’t Do This: Worldbuilding Dump

“Sit down, Luke.”

“Aww, Ben, I wanted to play dejarik with everybody else!”

“I’m sorry, Luke, but I need you to become part of a larger world. Since we have all this spare time while we’re travelling to Alderaan, let me tell you how the Force works. Also, since you’re a backwards farm boy, I think I better bring you up to speed on galactic politics. Oh, and look at this, I just happened to have brought my holographic map of the galaxy as well. See, here’s Coruscant, and here’s Dagobah— Luke, you must concentrate!”

“Aww!”

Do This: Take Worldbuilding For Granted

Whether the story you’re writing is speculative or not, the key to building your strange world is actually counter-intuitive. What you have to do is pretend to “take it for granted” that everyone—characters and readers—have a basic understanding of your world.

I say “pretend” because, of course, you can’t take it for granted at all. You simultaneously have to assume your readers know zilch. This is where the delicate dance begins. Two things to keep in mind here:

1. Your readers need to immediately identify with your protagonist and see the story through his eyes. And, of course, your protagonist—in almost all cases—will have at least a modicum of familiarity with his story world.

2. You have to assume your readers are smart enough to dive into the story and put the pieces together for themselves—as long as they’re provided the pieces.

Just as with the backstory information, you need to wait until the moment the information becomes necessary, then weave it in. And never assume readers are interested in the magical rules, political system, or geography of your story just because. Spec readers love complex world-building, but only because it matters within the story.

How to Do Worldbuilding Right

Think about how Luke Skywalker learns about the Force: slowly, sometimes painfully, and always necessarily.

Think about how viewers learn about galactic politics: Leia’s forceful, “The Imperial Senate will never sit still for this!”

Think about how viewers learn about the story’s geography: Luke’s mournful, “If there’s a bright center to the universe, then you’re on the planet that it’s farthest from.”

That “spare time” line I gave Obi-Wan? Sadly, that’s from a published story–which used its “spare time” to go on and on about its magic system for entire chapters. If you’re ever tempted to follow suit, first question why your characters have spare time. More often than not, they shouldn’t, and when they do, it should be mercifully brief as it is in the “Luke against remotes” scene en route to Alderaan.

Star Wars New Hope Luke Skywalker Remote Training Droid

Second, remember lengthy info dumps are usually a sign the conflict has wilted away to nothing (cue Han’s entrance, stage right). And you know what they say about no conflict, no story

3. Technical Info Dumps

Sometimes stories deal with very technical subjects, which their responsible authors have diligently researched in some depth. Maybe your Delta Force protag has to dismantle a bomb, and readers need to understand his thought process as he chooses between the red wire and the blue wire. Maybe your heroine is a star swordswoman, and the complicated forms and tactics involved in her prowess need to be explained. Or perhaps one of your settings is a famous historical site, the history of which is fascinating.

Or maybe you’re just really, really proud of yourself for your incredible discipline in becoming an overnight expert in quantum physics, and you want to prove to readers you really do know what you’re talking about.

So you info dump the technical specs.

Doing Research for a Novel Avengers

Don’t Do This: Technical Info Dump

Mattie approached the corral to observe the horse she was considering buying. He was small, perhaps only thirteen hands. As everyone familiar with horses knew, a hand was four inches. A horse’s height was measured, not from his head, as with humans, but from his withers, which was the highest part of his back, at the base of his neck. This meant the horse was just over four feet tall, not including his head. He was black, but all four feet were white to the fetlocks (or ankles)–a marking known as “socks” (though, if the white had risen higher, to his knees, they would be “stockings”). Most people considered white feet weaker, the hooves more prone to cracking. Mattie was not most people.

Do This: Skip the Technical Stuff

Now, you may just have learned a thing or two you didn’t know about horses. But did you learn anything that advanced the plot? I think we can safely say, no. As always, that’s the litmus test for whether or not technical details should be included in your story: are they actually necessary?

More often than not, readers will not need to know how a bomb works, how to perform intricate fighting maneuvers, or the detailed history of every setting your character visits. When in doubt, leave it out.

However, there will certainly be moments in which technical information is necessary to your story. If any of your characters are in ignorance, you can take advantage of that opportunity to sow the info into the plot and conflict. Be wary, however, of including an ignorant character just for the sake of his ignorance. If he doesn’t know what’s going on, there should be a plot-sound reason for this.

When you find yourself in a situation, in which all the present characters are in the know, often the simplest way to bring the reader up to speed is to quickly sketch the necessary info within the narrative. But keep it unobtrusive and streamlined.

How to Do Technical Information Right

In Charles Portis’s True Grit, he skips all that info about a horse’s height. He doesn’t explain what technical terms such as “fetlock” mean; he leaves them to be deduced from the context. And he doesn’t bore readers with that explanation about weak white feet. He advances the scene simply and quickly by having Mattie quote and reject the old proverb,

“One white foot buy him, two white feet try him, three white feet be on the sly, four white feet pass him by.” But I do not hold with that.

True Grit 1969 John Wayne Glenn Campbell Kim Darby Little Blackie

4. Emotional Info Dumps

Here’s one you don’t always see in info dump discussions: emotional information. Rather than the outside-in types of information we’ve discussed above, this is what you might think of as inside-out info. This kind of dump is designed to share a character’s state of mind, his motivations, his current emotions, or his process of thinking.

The fundamental problem with this approach is that it lacks finesse. It’s on the nose. By its very nature, it destroys subtext. Worse, it’s unrealistic. How often do people in real life go around dumping their most intimate personal thoughts on others? This only happens in “extreme” moments, and those extreme moments belong only in extreme scenes. These are going to be the “big” scenes in your story, and, as such, they must be earned.

If your characters are continually explaining themselves, you lose not only realism, but also the opportunity to develop complexity, subtext, and even mystery.

Don’t Do This: Emotional Info Dump

“What’s the matter, Jane? Why were you so grumpy during my house party? How come you just want to up and leave me to go visit your horrible dying aunt?”

“Oh, sir, I’m sorry, but you’re behaving abominably, and I can’t stand it. You want to talk about horrible? Let’s talk about that piece of fluff Blanche Ingram. You’re going to marry her, I just know you are, and all because she’s beautiful and rich and I’m poor and plain. And I can’t bear it. So… I’m going.”

Do This: Avoid On-the-Nose Dialogue

Jane Eyre Writer's Digest Annotated Classic K.M> WeilandAvoiding on-the-nose dialogue is so important, I did a whole post on it. If Mr. Rochester and Jane Eyre had that exchange midway through Charlotte Brontë’s Jane Eyre, the dialogue would have been entirely honest–and it would have ended the story. More than that, it would have destroyed the dynamic inner conflict and interpersonal tension that makes this such a complex and powerful classic (which, of course, I explored from writer’s point of view in Jane Eyre: The Writer’s Digest Annotated Classic.)

Good stories are as much about what the characters do not say as what they do. Most characters are on a journey of self-discovery in their character arcs, which means they are caught between a fundamental Lie and Truth. In short: they’re confused. For most of the story, they won’t be able to completely interpret their own feelings, much less be able (or willing) to share them with other characters.

How to Do Emotional Info Right

Emotional dumps like this are usually a sign of the author trying to discover what’s going on inside his character. Don’t be afraid to write these dumps. But also don’t be afraid to delete them and replace them with the bob-and-weave, hide-and-seek of more realistic and less on-the-nose exchanges, such as the one Brontë actually wrote for Jane and Rochester:

“You have as good as informed me, sir, that you are going shortly to be married?”

“Yes; what then?”

“In that case, sir, Adele ought to go to school: I am sure you will perceive the necessity of it.”

“To get her out of my bride’s way, who might otherwise walk over her rather too emphatically? There’s sense in the suggestion; not a doubt of it. Adele, as you say, must go to school; and you, of course, must march straight to—the devil?”

“I hope not, sir; but I must seek another situation somewhere.”

“In course!” he exclaimed, with a twang of voice and a distortion of features equally fantastic and ludicrous. He looked at me some minutes.

By avoiding the emotional dump early on, Brontë left room for the moment, later on, when Jane’s feelings finally do explode in her famous speech: “Do you think, because I am poor, obscure, plain, and little, I am soulless and heartless?”

I am no bird; and no net ensnares me- I am a free human being with an independent will Jane Eyre Ruth Wilson BBC 2006 Wallpaper

(Click to download as wallpaper.)

Here’s the thing about info dumps: they’re easy. Writing our way around them in the most logical and seamless way often requires careful thought and execution. But doing so will not only prevent your story from floundering under the weight of a clumsy info dump, it will also force you to strengthen your narrative that much more.

Take a scroll through your manuscript. Can you find any of these four types of info dumps in your story? Mark them, and then use them as opportunities to strengthen your writing all the way around.

Wordplayers, tell me your opinions! Which of these four types of info dumps do you tend to struggle with most? Tell me in the comments!

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About K.M. Weiland | @KMWeiland

K.M. Weiland lives in make-believe worlds, talks to imaginary friends, and survives primarily on chocolate truffles and espresso. She is the IPPY and NIEA Award-winning and internationally published author of the Amazon bestsellers Outlining Your Novel and Structuring Your Novel. She writes historical and speculative fiction from her home in western Nebraska and mentors authors on her award-winning website.

Comments

  1. Actually all of them, but I try to be merciless in finding and transforming them. I’d included the descriptive info dump as a sub-form of the world building one. You know, where the character steps into a room and stops there for half a chapter noting every detail of the room before arriving at the tiny detail of the body lying at the desk.

    As you noted in your blog, an info dump is a kind of short hand for a first draft to say ‘put something interesting here.’

    • K.M. Weiland | @KMWeiland says:

      Sometimes I find I need to do a brain dump, for my own sake, just so I can get a sense of what all was floating around in my head. Then, once it’s on paper, I can poke around and find the bits that are actually worth saving.

    • “You know, where the character steps into a room and stops there for half a chapter noting every detail of the room before arriving at the tiny detail of the body lying at the desk. ”

      Ugh, school taught us how to do this. (You know that old advice that if you become a writer, you should ignore everything you learned in high school, right?) I remember learning the three ways of describing the scene: (something like) Panoramic is where your character walks in, and looks slowly from left to right and describes each thing his eyes pass over… okay I forgot the other two. I think one was seeing the exact center first and looking around it, and possibly the third was ceiling-down, I don’t recall. Everybody’s choice in my class was that stupid panoramic view. DX

      My mom told me about a scene one writer (one of Terry Pratchett’s Shannara books I think) handled it when a beast leaped out at one of the characters: “It had a head, was covered in fur, and had legs; that was all there was time to notice.” (I’m sure that’s not the exact quote.) I was always impressed with that scene. XD

      • Oh, for the love of– *violent headdesk.* I meant Terry BROOKS, not Terry Pratchett! TT^TT How embarrassing!

        • K.M. Weiland | @KMWeiland says:

          That old high school advice is actually good–go from the big picture down to the small details. It’s just that the actual details that need to be shared are usually between one and three. :p

          • Well, I don’t mean to discount the entire thing, but as in Alex McGilvery ‘s example where the character notices the dead body last– the most important and prominent piece of information (unless it’s hidden or in some way obscured from sight)– I have never seen a good execution of the panoramic view. Or any specific directional, take-your-time-and-peek-around view– at least anything outside of, say, a detective in an unoccupied room. But in school (well, mine anyway), the concept of noticing a thing like motion first, the largest object or person, etc. never once came up.

            I’m convinced that only Hermione Granger takes the time to panoramic-view a little room that is completely dominated by a towering, slobbering, angry three-headed dog in favor of trying to spot the teeny-tiny little trapdoor at its feet.

          • K.M. Weiland | @KMWeiland says:

            Good point. This goes back to motivation-reaction units, which are all about organizing character reactions *in the order* in which they actually occur. It makes little sense to have a character observe a tiny detail when facing a dangerous situation, which will obviously have almost all of his attention.

  2. Great post!

    I’ve been hearing about the infamous info dump since I began studying the craft. But this is a good breakdown of their different manifestations.
    Backstory, worldbuilding, technical and emotional. Excellent. The most recent experience with this is when I read A Song of Ice and Fire by George R.R. Martin. Dude is a genius storyteller, and I was amazed at his level of detail within the setting but at times it was overkill. Honestly it was. Did it advance the plot? Sometimes yes, and sometimes not. But I’m not sure I understand the difference. One of the things I enjoyed the most was the setting. But at times it seemed like unecessary information.

    What do we mean exactly when we say “advancing the plot”? I think I’m taking it for granted.

    • K.M. Weiland | @KMWeiland says:

      Published fantasy gets away with a *lot* of info dumps. More than it should, IMO. There’s a point where it’s lush and interesting to readers and a point where it becomes blatantly self-indulgent. It’s difficult to pinpoint the exact tipping point, since it’s going to vary from author to author and story to story (and also reader to reader).

      However, the litmus test for information that “advances the plot” is whether or not the information is *necessary* to the story. If you pulled it, would the plot progression and the character motivations still make sense? If so, then that info isn’t, strictly speaking, necessary to the story.

      Now, let’s be clear: there are certainly many other legitimate reasons for including info, beyond just its necessity for advancing the plot. Sometimes including something of beauty is acceptable on the merits of the beauty alone. But that’s a tricky wire to walk, since writers sometimes have difficulties in judging the comparative beauty of their own information in an unbiased way.

      • This is a very fascinating topic. I get the jist of it in a simplistic way, but there’s something about it that I’m missing. I’ll have to keep my eye out for this when reading.

        Certain phrases stick out to me like: plot progression with character motivations. You discuss setting up our scenes like dominoes in a logical sequence. That sounds understandable. Making it logical, step by step to show a progression. So when we say advancing the plot, I seem to have a complete brain fart. Pardon my french. They’re a symbiotic bunch in character, plot, and theme. I should understand this but something isn’t clicking yet. What does that mean on the scene level? Or how would we know when it’s advancing the plot? Does that mean it affects the character arc? Hmm. This is quite interesting.

        • K.M. Weiland | @KMWeiland says:

          We can simplify the concept of plot by simply identifying it as “the conflict.” The moment the conflict ends, so does the story.

          The character’s overall story goal is what drives the conflict (if he gives up, the conflict ends). That overall goal is broken down into individual scene goals, each of which must inform the overall goal in some way. Therefore, each scene needs to be moving the character forward (usually in a two steps forward, one step back kind of way), toward his overall goal.

          If a scene *doesn’t* engage with the main conflict, via the character’s pursuit of his goal, then we can say “it’s not advancing the plot.”

          • Thanks! I need to put this stuff into action. Ugh. I never feel ready enough to write. That’s why I enjoyed your book so much, Conquering Writers Block. It’s hard to overcome that fear and doubt.

        • Dorothy meets the Scarecrow and unhooks him from his nail. The Scarecrow decides to join Dorothy in going to the Wizard. (She could have just kept walking, and he could have decided to stay where he was or go somewhere else.) Now Dorothy’s team is one person bigger, which helps prepare her to defeat the Wicked Witch; he will be the smart one who figures out things like how to cut the rope and drop the chandelier on the guards, and it will be his fire that she douses, splashing some water on the Witch.

          That’s advancing the plot.

      • ” Sometimes including something of beauty is acceptable on the merits of the beauty alone.”

        The delicate balance with which to employ this method totally eludes Brian Jacques in every Redwall novel I’ve read (and am re-reading) so far. XD I LOVE his books, don’t get me wrong, but I’m caught in a scene currently which is intoxicating me with the “rosy fingers of dawn” (yes, he ACTUALLY uses this phrase in one of his books) and the flawless weather, and the delicate flowers, and the dancing birds, and the throttling-your-windpipe joy, joy! JOY! of all the nearby woodland creatures… all of which he had already done just TWO dang chapters ago!

        • K.M. Weiland | @KMWeiland says:

          Hah. I love Brian Jacques too. But he does get a little… formulaic, shall we say.

        • I’ve never read Brian Jacques, but your line about “the rosy fingers of dawn” has caught my attention because I saw that a lot in a translation of the Iliad, where “dawn” was supposed to be a goddess named Eos. I can only guess he was paying homage to Homer for some reason. I haven’t come across a lot of Greek-inspired fantasy, so I’ll seek him out. Unless it turns out he just really, really likes that phrase for no particular reason 🙂

          • K.M. Weiland | @KMWeiland says:

            Been a long time since I read Jacques (and I’d yet to read Homer at that point), but I don’t really get the vibe that Jacques was directly influenced by Greek literature. He wrote lovely children’s books about anthropomorphic woodland creatures in medieval England.

          • I remember seeing an article of advice from editors, and more than one mentioned being tired of the phrase “rosy fingers of dawn”. It’s supposed to be a poetic description of a sunrise, and yes, it’s probably originally inspired by the Iliad as you say, but it has been so overused to the point of losing any meaning. XD

          • Ah, gotcha. I’ll still look into him; I’m scouting for books that might get my nephews and my niece addicted to reading.

          • K.M. Weiland | @KMWeiland says:

            In my opinion, they’re a fabulous choice for just that! I’m looking forward to sharing them with my niece.

  3. This is very helpful but I think I may be guilty of another kind of info-dump – the stream of consciousness info-dump. It’s a bit tricky because I don’t want to drop the stream of consciousness style I have going on, as I think it works to a certain extent, but I do need to pare it back, finding a balance in terms of how much information I put in her thoughts and running it into the action, dialogue etc. To complicate things further, my narrator is not completely reliable. Any tips?

    • K.M. Weiland | @KMWeiland says:

      Stream of consciousness is a super-tricky technique. But, as with any kind of narrative, the key is always: does this advance the story? is this info necessary? does the *way* in which the information is conveyed (e.g., emotional dump) say something important about the character? If the answers are yes, then you’re probably on the right track.

  4. One aspect of writing that thrills me is dribbling backstory by introducing information just in time to inform current events or to foreshadow future conflicts. It’s particularly rewarding when multiple small details, sprinkled along the story’s path, come together to reveal the backstory reasons for an event.

  5. Joe Long says:

    Info dumps were some of the worst parts of my first draft. As I started a comprehensive rewrite, I tried hard to follow these rules.

    I’d comment that world building need not be just in speculative writing. My MC shares a lot of my own experiences growing up in the 70’s in a mill town in western Pennsylvania. It’s a culture different from many other places. We have our foods, customs, dialect, etc.

    The info I decided to keep was almost always converted to dialogue, but I sometimes made a joke of it. In one instance, the MC takes to describing something and the other characters say, “We know!”, turning it into a comment on the MC’s personality. Later on, he spills out to the object of his affection how he truly loves her. It was awful. I trimmed it back, and then had her respond shortly after by chuckling He: “What’s so funny?” She: “You, goofy – so melodramatic.”

    And for the question above about how to tell if something is important to the plot, I work really hard on the action/reaction sequences. Everything should logically tie together as some type of response to what occurred before.

    • K.M. Weiland | @KMWeiland says:

      Totally agree about the worldbuilding info dump not being a problem exclusive to speculative fiction. Spec writers are more prone to it, just because they’re responsible for *every* detail of their worlds. But the sharing of setting information is basically the same across genres, and historical and mystery readers appreciate dumps no more (and, in fact, probably less) than do speculative readers.

  6. As usual, an apt and concisely explained post. You’ve managed to put it all together in a way I never could – and you actually provide the solutions. I’ll certainly point people to this post next time I’m doing a critique. I’ll also put it on my virtual wall when working through book two of my fantasy novel – I’m as prone to infodumps as anyone. Interestingly, Chuck Palahniuk advises against ever using the verb ‘felt’, even with internal dialogue. There’s always a better ‘showing’ method that draws the reader in to the characters’ world. Thanks again for the post.

    • K.M. Weiland | @KMWeiland says:

      Palahniuk’s advice is great. Words like “feel,” “saw,” “hear,” and even “think” are what I call “telling verbs.” They’re usually clear signs you’re telling a scene instead of digging deeper to show it. More on that here (in the very first installment of the Most Common Writing Mistakes series!) for anyone who’s interested.

  7. Awesome post! I was struggling yesterday with a scene which has an emotional info dump and found the answer right here.

  8. My story has *tons* of emotional info dumps (but not through dialogue, through interior monologue) that I wrote during NaNo when I couldn’t think of anything else to write. I really enjoyed them and felt that they were moving the story and helping the reader understand the MC better. However, when editing time comes around I will try to remove some of them and rely more on subtext, although I think subtext is harder with a first person narrator. Thanks for another great post- info dumps are a challenge for us all.

    • K.M. Weiland | @KMWeiland says:

      That’s the thing about emotional info dumps: they are usually a *ton* of fun to write. We love it when we get to explore our characters’ emotional landscapes. This makes this problem doubly dangerous, since it’s often hard for us to resist it. As I always say: go ahead and dump in the first draft if you need to. Just make sure you clean it up in the edits to make it less on the nose.

  9. Great post. I’ve never thought of the Emotional Dump before, and I do sometimes have scenes where characters talk about their insecurities, so that’s something worth looking out for. In some cases it kind of depends on the character. Some people like to talk out their problems, even if only with people they trust, while others internalize everything.

    The first draft of the first book I wrote in my series had a terrible info dump problem, where I laid out so much information all in one chapter it ground the entire book to a halt. I ended up removing most of it in the third draft because the readers didn’t even need to know all of it.

    There are times when expositing a lot of info can be necessary but it should be avoided whenever possible. Even if I do, I try to spread it out and add some humour or emotional outbursts to mix it up, and then spread it out between several chapters in later drafts.

    What if worldbuilding and technical info happens to be the same though? In my vampire series, I dig into blood types and how vampires have their own blood type (something one of the main characters discovers and calls type V). There are several books where knowing this is necessary. There’s an extremely rare condition that’s killing someone important to the MC (as in there might be only 3 examples in all of this world’s history of this condition) in one book that I’m currently planning. Sometimes it’s also used to explore the ability differences between different kinds of vampires and why some have certain powers than others don’t.

  10. This was really helpful Katie thank you. Well written and provided me with information about info dumps I didn’t know. The one thing I have noticed since I starting writing my story in November of 2014 is that my mind likes to skip ahead sometimes by several chapters. Heck even to the point of the next book. Right now I’m using Autocrit to do self editing while I improve the characters, dialog, plot and everything else. It’s the best editing tool I’ve found yet. Way better than grammarly.

    One day I will actually finish this thing and share it with the world!

    • K.M. Weiland | @KMWeiland says:

      What applies in real life usually applies to writing too: the grass is always greener on the other side. Writing in the moment is hard work; writing in the future always like it will be easier and more exciting. But patience is a key trait for a successful writer. We just have to keep pounding out the story, wherever we find ourselves in it at the moment.

      • Wow–“grass is greener” principle applied to the future.

        The grass will be greener after the fence is torn down.

  11. This is a great post. Stories are full of information, and for myself, I do not pay attention to how I unload the info, I will now. In my fantasy story of Archomai, there is a lot of information to get to the reader, the kingdoms, monetary system, its religion, its language, and its authority system. Then throw in the plot, and characters. My natural tendency is to dump and dump until the truck is empty. As you point out, not good. What happened in this story was strictly by accident, nothing I planned. My real job is a farm manager for an organic, grass-fed beef farm (Belted Galloway, Oreo Cookie Cows), now partially retired, no more cows. My boss of thirty years has a son, who is a professional writer, and author. He writes si-fi and he teaches creative writing in various colleges. I had the privilege of having him look at my manuscript. He said my protagonist, Jeremiah, was what he called a “Reader Representative.” Jeremiah goes from our world into the kingdom of Archomai. He said this works because Jeremiah has to have everything explained to him about the fantasy kingdom. I do not know if this term, “Reader Representative” is a writing term, or that he coined the phrase.

    • K.M. Weiland | @KMWeiland says:

      You find these “reader representatives” in a lot of stories, and they’re very handy, from the writer’s perspective. But you have to be careful, since these characters’ continual ignorance can sometimes make them seem less than smart. It’s great when you can start out with these necessarily ignorant characters, then show their intelligence by having them start to put together the pieces and figure things out for themselves.

      • You’re taking it as an axiom that a character must not be stupid. But is this true? What is the proper place for stupid characters? Why (if it is true in the first place) must a protagonist or MC not be stupid?

        • K.M. Weiland | @KMWeiland says:

          Depends if the character is *intended* to be stupid. That’s an entirely different thing from a character who ends up seeming stupid, when that wasn’t the author’s intent at all.

        • Agree with KM. I’m pretty sure the Rincewind character in Terry Pratchett’s Discworld books is supposed to be simpleminded. But Pratchett is writing him as comedy, and there’s a lot of cool things happening around Rincewind, enough that the reader doesn’t feel “trapped” in his point of view.

          And, Rincewind is not entirely stupid; he has a fine sense of self-preservation 🙂 Plus, if I remember correctly, Pratchett uses Rincewind’s simplicity to set up funny situations, not put him in true danger.

          But the thing with a stupid character is that the character’s stupidity can seem abusive of the writer, as if you’ve made the character stupid to railroad the plot in a particular direction. A stupid character has to be handled with a deft touch.

          I’ve never seen stupid characters done well outside of comedy, and in those situations the narrators always make sure the reader knows from the get-go that the character is supposed to be stupid.

    • “My real job is a farm manager for an organic, grass-fed beef farm ”

      Don’t say “real job” as if writing isn’t also your “real job”. Just because you haven’t finished or received payment YET doesn’t mean it’s not real. You don’t get paid until you finish the job– you don’t get a book contract (or money) until you finish the book. You have more than one “real job”. 🙂

      Your fantasy MS sounds a lot like mine (minus the portal jump), where I am considering reworking a character to become something of a “reader representative”.

      As to Rod, the issue with “stupid characters” is that they are exasperatingly prevalent. Overusing cliches in your MS will often come across as lazy or uninspired writing. Of course, “stupid” (or more likely uneducated in certain areas) characters have their place, but it is best to either play it up as a comedy and focus on the reaction of other characters to this person’s clumsy ignorance (which will most likely remain as a static character), or with that character actively coping with and overcoming their lack of education, producing a character arc.

      When “stupid” characters are portrayed in serious situations, especially if they have little to no character arc, readers can easily grow bored with seeing them.

      • As a matter of fact, I have some examples of each done well.

        First, in the comedy TV series, The Big Bang Theory, most of the main characters are brilliant scientists who work in a college, including theoretical physicist and a robotics engineer/ astronaut. While none of the four main characters could rightly be considered “stupid”, they are hungrily lacking in social skills. There are myriad examples of embarrassing moments shared among the group that can easily turn any regular social confrontation into uncomfortable silence… or worse. One such example is Sheldon Cooper, who has on a few instances actually REQUIRED the presence of a bold, Magic-Marker-on-poster-board sign reading “SARCASM” to understand when a person is being sarcastic with him. His inability to grasp the concept of sarcasm pops up throughout the show, and although Sheldon has a (gradual) character arc and is getting better at identifying sarcasm, he is still inexperienced enough to blurt it out every time he senses it happening (and still sometimes gets it wrong).

        This is an example of using a “stupid” (or, as I mentioned before, merely ignorant of a certain area of knowledge) character in a comedic sense.

        Another example from the show is Sheldon and his roommate’s next-door-neighbor Penny, who requires more space to adequately explain than KM’s entire article post. XD Penny is an example of Jamie’s previous point about letting the readers (or audience) in on the knowledge that the character is intended to be considered “stupid”.

        The Myth-Adventures series (starting with Another Fine Myth) written by Robert Asprin involves a timid, inexperienced thief/ magician named Skeve in a medieval setting who often encounters situations beyond what he feels he can easily handle. He makes incorrect assumptions, he has difficulty handling social situations or understanding politics, he barely knows any useful magic skills (and anyway feels more comfortable with thievery), and he is frequently told off for speaking or acting like an idiot, so he is prone to developing feelings of inferiority, self-doubt, or self-loathing. Compounding all this is the fact that he suddenly becomes an inter-dementional traveler discovering vastly different worlds with vastly different levels of technology– some far more escalated than our own– which only serves to make him into even more of a “stupid” character.

        However, Skeve undergoes a character arc throughout the series which brings out his more confident, competent side as he learns how to face his insecurities and ignorance and become a more respectable, knowledgeable adult. Though the Myth-Adventures is largely comedic, it has many serious, intense moments, and these serious moments where he overcomes his lack of knowledge or understanding are the truly shining moments of his character, providing readers with a tolerable “stupid” character.

        While we’re on the topic of Skeve and the Myth-Adventures series, I find Skeve to be a fabulous “reader representative” as he gradually acquires more and more knowledge about the workings of magic, politics, and social structures and culture across vastly different worlds.

  12. World building and backstory dumps.
    This post needs to be bookmarked. Thanks K.M.

    • K.M. Weiland | @KMWeiland says:

      Those are the two big ones! If you can avoid those, readers will thank you.

      • “World building and backstory dumps.”

        “Those are the two big ones! If you can avoid those…”

        Wait. Are we avoiding world building now? If so, you have just killed all of the joy out of writing my fantasy novel. 😛

        • “World building [dumps] and backstory dumps.”

          D:

          Wow, I’m such an idiot.

          Please pretend I never said anything.

          • K.M. Weiland | @KMWeiland says:

            Yeah, no worldbuilding please. We need to start a new fantasy trend. 😉

  13. Another post that I’ve put on my resource list. I visit you site almost daily now. I appreciate it your info. Thank you! ❤

  14. LaDonna Ockinga says:

    Within our critique group, we have long been careful to indicate info dumps of various kinds, but failed to name the emotional problem areas as emotional info dumps. Having a name gives weight to the critique and helpful guidance. Thanks for naming my world. I see a more subtle future ahead.

    • K.M. Weiland | @KMWeiland says:

      I find I can’t fully get my head around something unless I name something. So I name everything. Even my stomach. 😉

      • Oh, really? What’s your stomach’s name? 😀

        My mom’s feet are named Ferguson and Dequatilittle. (Please, oh please, do NOT ask me how to correctly spell that last!)

        This might fall under the heading “TMI,” but I named my two chest halves as Midge and Smidgen.

        Naming things is fun! 😀

        (You don’t have to take me seriously enough to respond if you’d rather just ditch this conversation. I’m just being ridiculous. XD)

  15. When I see bits of backstory sown into the book it only wets my appetite and leavespecially my imagination clawing for more information. But when given all at once, although helpful, takes the suspense out of it.

    Worldbuilding dumping is where it’ll get tricky since I’m writing fantasy. But I’ll have to walk that plank. Technical dumping would be tempting but I’d like to give room for the readers imagination. Emotional dumping not sure about but it’s good to have it on the radar. People do “dump” emotion on others sometimes but it’s pretty rare. We’re mostly icebergs that only project certain aspects of our personality we’d like others to see. People are mostly hidden, and we only learn snippets about them over a looonnnnggg period of time. That makes relationships so dynamic, enjoyable and unpredictable. Now I have to learn how to write it! Lol!

    • Joe Long says:

      I did some more writing today after reading this post.

      My MC was going to the registration for a baseball tournament his team was playing in. The technical details aren’t critical to the story, but the scene primarily to get the characters together to discuss events at the team party the night before. The technical stuff will be helpful to understand some events in the following scenes.

      Now, I could have started with
      “Sixteen teams from all over the eastern half of the country, from New Orleans to Chicago to Boston, came to town for the tournament. Each team registered in alphabetical order, with each player showing his birth certificate to prove he was young enough to play.”

      Here’s how it ended up:
      “We’d been told to arrive at the hotel no later than ten a.m. Sunday morning for registration. I was a few minutes early and watched my team mates filter in. Baltimore, Brooklyn, Cincinnati had already finished, and Detroit was in the conference room when I arrived. I peaked in the door and saw the line of players approaching the desk, each stating their name and presenting their birth certificate.

      I returned to the lobby, plopped down on the sofa and glanced up at the clock. My hand rubbed over my shirt pocket to reassure myself that I hadn’t forgotten my own birth certificate.”

    • K.M. Weiland | @KMWeiland says:

      @Benjamin: Exactly. When used skillfully, backstory is a tremendously powerful tool for luring readers deeper into the story. Conversely, however, when we dump it all in the beginning, it does us no good whatsoever in piquing reader curiosity–because just handed them everything they could possibly want to know.

      • I really think writers have to be ninjas in all of this. Very covert and skillful.

        • K.M. Weiland | @KMWeiland says:

          Yeah, I like that. :p It *is* kinda like that. We’re subtly arranging all the pieces behind the scenes, so readers don’t even notice them–but only the effect of the big picture.

        • I have a Naruto headband. Does that count? 😀

          I think my best “ninja” moment thus far has been in my sci-fi superhero series (collaborative project with my husband). I have a character who blames herself for a crime she couldn’t possibly have been involved in *cough*wellyesandno*cough* while her age was still in the single digits. This fact has greatly affected her personality, and gradually throughout the story more details of her sense of guilt are to be revealed, until a certain mission with uncomfortable (to her) parallels to that moment in her past. Things go drastically wrong in the worst way possible, costing two lives at her hands, and at the end of it she snaps emotionally and aggressively dumps her feelings out on everyone that’s trying to console her, then runs away. It’s still some time after this that she (and the readers) finally learns the complete story behind what happened when she was a child and she is freed from that oppressive sense of guilt that has shadowed so much of her life.

  16. Kate Flournoy says:

    *wry face* Worldbuilding. *gulp* I know how to do it properly (just as you explained it— take it for granted that it’s already known) but sometimes I scare myself thinking I’m being too vague, and the reader won’t get it, and then I go into panic mode. 😛 Because in some books, the opening chapter or prologue or whatever does this /to such an extent/ that reading it is just like trying to climb a buttered wall— all over the place. (Not, mind you, that I’ve ever actually climbed a buttered wall 😉 ).
    I guess I just need to toughen up and do it anyway.
    Thanks for the awesome post!

    • A buttered wall… I like that image. XD

      Or just scaling a never-ending wall. 😛 I can’t remember off the top of my head, but I know I’ve read something that went on for pages before finally introducing the main character. It was annoying that I was somewhat attached to the character mentioned in the history portion, but he wasn’t going to be in the main story because he was dead already.

      Like, give me THIS guy. You already gave me so much of him, you might as well have him still alive and show me what he regrets after fifty years, or what he’s lost since then, or how the kingdom has changed over the years and he doesn’t like it, or whatever. 😛

    • Well, at least you’re not alone. We’re routing for you. May the force be with you.

    • K.M. Weiland | @KMWeiland says:

      When in doubt, bring in the betas. Write it with as little information as you *think* you need, then see if the betas can keep up.

      • YEAH, RELEASE THE KRAKEN, and feed the remainder to the betas.

        • Kate Flournoy says:

          Thanks, guys! 🙂

          Benjamin… the Kraken being… myself? Armed with a red pen? lol

          Yesssss. Beta readers are so helpful. And I’m incredibly blessed to have an awesome beta reader in one of my sisters— normally close friends and family don’t make the greatest beta readers because they don’t want to hurt you, but not so my sister. She is totally frank, totally upfront, and she and I have gone through the ‘learning’ process more or less together, so far— discussing good books and what makes them good, and how to implement it, and all that stuff. So she really knows her stuff. I consider it a good day when she has less than five bookmarks in my word-file that we need to go through and ‘fix’. 😛

          • When Kate said “bring in the betas” it evoked a kind of battle-like imagery. I LOVE that phrase. Sorry, I didn’t mean it in a bad way. The beta readers sound so critical to our writing process. I can’t wait to get some. Or at least, finish my WIP for them to devour.

          • Kate Flournoy says:

            Oh no, I totally wasn’t offended— it made me laugh. I’ve never been compared to the Kraken before. 😉 I like it… /power!!!/ 😛 lol

            Yes, beta readers are some awesome people… er… occupations… or is it entities?
            I’m sure they will devour your WIP— in a very literal sense.
            In my experience, manuscripts come back in shreds! 😛 😀

  17. “2. Worldbuilding Info Dumps”

    I have yet to finish my world-building for my current fantasy novel, and I’ll probably never be finished before I have several books already written… or die. XD Which is fine with me. I was going over some of the rules of how magic, history, and certain politics worked in my MS with someone in our old writers’ group, and one woman was asking why I didn’t just begin the story by going over all these points, since I had so much of it worked out anyway. I explained to her that if I did that I would bore my readers before they made it to page three. She said she didn’t believe that, because she was enthralled with what I had already told her. I said that was because of how I was telling it. (I forgot to remind her she also already knew my characters and some crucial parts of the story.) Not only would all the important information probably take up a good ten or twelve pages, covering about two centuries before my main characters are even born, but the story itself would die, because of spoilers, spoilers, spoilers. There would no longer remain any point to writing the novel. (All that backstory, magic, and politics can go into its own volume someday later down the road. I don’t feel like writing “The Tolkein Bestiary” for my readers until I’m finished Tolkeining.)

    “Be wary, however, of including an ignorant character just for the sake of his ignorance.”

    This one I’ve been fumbling with. There is so much relevant history in my WIP that I considered getting a “newbie” character involved, although I’ve been trying to find imaginative ways to pull it off. What I thought of was to make it a character trait, where he’s learning about how the surrounding kingdoms were conquered by a tyrant, and he’s soaking in information and later seeking out more and more to satisfy his unquenchable curiosity, including seeking literature and collecting related items and trinkets. During this time he displays a keen intellect and great talents at his magic, becoming sort of a prodigy. At first it seems like a regular young boy who is interested in learning about the glories of a past war, but after a little while, it becomes apparent that he is darkly obsessed with the person who did the conquering more than the heroes who defeated him.

    Only problem is, I don’t know who can be his “teacher” for times like this without creating a series of conversational info dumps. It’s really tricky trying to figure out how to tell my readers “This king and queen and hundreds of people died in this certain location because of this tragedy, and it dates back to this other tragedy” that everybody and their grandmother already knows about across every kingdom and has no inclination to say, “But that’s so interesting! I didn’t know–” (Yes you did, Gramma. Everybody knows. So does the kid, because it was the direct cause of his orphanage eleven months ago.)

    So I haven’t actually solved my problem, I’ve just sort of added a few steps. :/

    • K.M. Weiland | @KMWeiland says:

      It’s actually shocking how much readers are willing to leave to subtext. I actually like books that have a little bit of a learning curve where the worldbuilding is concerned. As long as I can *visualize* things, I’m willing to hang with the characters as the story careens around corners without stopping to explain the map to me.

      One thing to keep in mind: if the “ignorant” character doesn’t *need* to know certain world-building facts to survive or accomplish his current goal, then readers probably don’t need to know right at that moment either.

    • Another idea is to introduce a situation that is at variance with what the character knows to be true (or thinks she knows is true). In my fantasy, a character is startled when she sees a sorcerer perform a spell that she knows has to be a blood spell. Yet the sorcerer doesn’t have a knife, nor cuts himself in any other way.

      That’s the moment when I mention that sorcerers are legally forbidden to carry knives. That’s also when my character finds out sorcerers have a loophole: the sorcerer (who is also a policeman) wears a vial of his own blood* which allows him to carry out the spell that subdues the suspect. Neither the workings of the spell, nor the laws of the society, are relevant before that scene, so I don’t mention them until then.

      *Neither Angelina Jolie nor Billy Bob Thornton were harmed in the writing of this story 🙂

      • K.M. Weiland | @KMWeiland says:

        It’s the old “start the scene with the character expecting one thing and end it with the opposite.” It’s extremely effective in keeping scene development from being on the nose. More on that here, for anyone who’s interested.

      • “Another idea is to introduce a situation that is at variance with what the character knows to be true (or thinks she knows is true).”

        Jamie.

        I.

        Love.

        You.

        My jaw literally dropped while reading your first line and stayed that way until I was finished. I don’t know WHY that never occurred to me before! D: In the first place, the character I just mentioned is the type of person to do things like what you described, keeping devices with him that help him to bend and reshape the nature of magic. I need to remember that other characters could do similar things as well, and apply them to their areas of knowledge as well.

        Mind = blown.

        • I’m tempted to screencap your post and set it as my background.

          • *blushes*

            Glad to be of help, Kitti! The insights I find on this site, starting with our hostess to the commenters, blow my mind all the time. Welcome to the club!

  18. Colin McCallister says:

    Mine is easily the World Building Dumps. Like a lot of other people that posted, I love to see my sci-fi world fully develop. I care for the small and needless aspects of how Hyperdrives work to the whole political structure of the galaxy. I personally love those needless lore aspects of fiction but I’m not everyone. A challenge I’ve had is how there was an ancient race and my protag has DNA very similiar to the race. Later on in the series, the race becomes a very influential aspect in the novel but in the first book, they are manly an excuse for an Universal language and why aliens look human. One thing I love to do is brainstorm ideas based around the race (along with the other lore aspects of the story) in another document. It gives me a full view of my story and I can find parts of the lore that can be added through subtext.

    • K.M. Weiland | @KMWeiland says:

      If anything, I actually have the opposite problem in sharing worldbuilding. I couldn’t care less how the hyperdrive works. :p Which means sometimes I leave causal gaps, which my betas are always sure to pick up on.

      • Joe Long says:

        You don’t care until you have a cracked dilithium crystal.

        (The explained can be saved until it matters, right?)

        • K.M. Weiland | @KMWeiland says:

          Spot on! (Although, to be fair, there will be times when explaining is necessary beforehand for the sake foreshadowing.)

          • Joe Long says:

            “Cap’n, I can’a guarantee the engines will hold up if you keep runnin ‘er at warp 8!”

            “I have faith in you, Scotty.”

          • K.M. Weiland | @KMWeiland says:

            *Scotty surreptitiously bangs his fist on the Warp drive panel*

          • Colin McCallister says:

            Also, I forgot to mention this in my first post, we’re reading 1984 in my English class and the book is separated into three parts. Since I’ve read your book on story structure I caught on the different plot points right away. We actually just finished the second second act and the last question is, “What is the purpose of Part Two?” I laughed when I saw it. I find that I have a lot more insight in literature in general because of your books and posts. Thanks so much and keep up the great work! =)

          • K.M. Weiland | @KMWeiland says:

            Awesomesauce! I definitely have found that to be true in my own experiences with story. The light bulb goes on a lot more. 😉

  19. Joe Long says:

    Reminds me of the opening scene of every Law & Order – but we, in the audience, always know there’s a dead body somewhere.

    I went to a conference last month and upon returning to my hotel room found the door ajar. This naturally raised my suspicions. My first fear was that I may have been robbed. I apprehensively stepped into the room, looking around the catalog everything against how I remembered leaving the room. At that point, if I had found a dead body behind the bed, the world stops – unless I think the killer may still be there.

  20. Kate Flournoy says:

    A good example of info dumping using ignorant characters /done right/ is the opening scene of Disney’s Monsters Inc.— training new scarers to hide under children’s beds, and explaining how the screams are used for electricity, and all that. In that case, we as the viewer really /needed to know that immediately/. With such a complex and unusual premise for the story, its important we figure it out right off instead of learning it gradually, otherwise the whole story is just mumbo-jumbo.
    And incidentally, the new recruits needed to know the same thing. So it was mutually beneficial. 😉

  21. Joe Long says:

    World building dumps and backstory dumps…it’s the dumps that are the problem. See what you can do to weave the information into the story.

  22. I’m sure I’ll have a case of the dumps myself. Elimination of unnecessary material is key. That’s what editing and revision is for. Our bodies have an organic process of “dumping” what is not needed in our system. It’s called excretion. It just “knows” when and how much to eliminate. Only if writing were as easy! But given the big picture of the overall story and plot, this is a must. Our bodies do it to maintain an intricate level of balance called homeostasis. Whenever something is out of balance, you get sick, illnesses set in. It gives rise to pathologies. Maybe somebody should make a laxative for writers! Hah! 😉

  23. Jeanette says:

    This is helpful information. I tend to struggle the most with the backstory info dump. I’m trying to learn how to weave the backstory in gradually instead of adding too much at a particular point in the story. I like your phrase “weave and wait” and the examples. As with many of your posts, this will be one I’ll refer to often. Thanks so much.

    • K.M. Weiland | @KMWeiland says:

      It’s a tricky dance to be sure. Sometimes it can be hard to get a sense, right away, of what information is needed upfront and what isn’t. I tend to be liberal in writing my backstory the first time around, and then I go back and trim *ruthlessly.* Then I reexamine the scene to see if it still makes sense–and re-add anything that absolutely needs to be there.

  24. Jeffrey Barlow says:

    So where does “As you know, Bob…” Fit in?

    • K.M. Weiland | @KMWeiland says:

      That could apply to any one of these. “As you know, Bob…” is a “technique” for sharing any of these four types of info (and more besides) in dialogue. More here: The Sneaky Secret Life of “As You Know, Bob…”

      • Joe Long says:

        How about if you could sneak it through as one character complaining to the other?

        “I’m getting bored, Bobby. At least starting tomorrow we can just show up and play without having to wait for fifteen other teams to get their big introductions on the field.”

        “Yeah, but if we don’t win a game today or tomorrow there ain’t gonna be nothing else to show up for.”

        16 teams, double elimination, all the teams participate in a big, long opening ceremony – as shown by Joe and Bob.

        • K.M. Weiland | @KMWeiland says:

          Yep, just add conflict. Done cleverly, it’s an insta-cure for “as you know Bob.” Readers are engaged in the conflict and don’t even notice the info they’re being fed.

  25. Superb post. I’ve known for years that I’m not supposed to info-dump, but I find it’s much harder in practice to avoid it! When a story incorporates a lot of strands from the world’s past (which is just what I love), this becomes a tightrope. And especially when I’m trying to decide how to incorporate a legend-within-the-story without info-dumping it… Anyway, this post has so much practical advice, and beautifully organized.

    • K.M. Weiland | @KMWeiland says:

      Great to hear it’s coming in handy! The key to great backstory is to treat it like a mystery. String readers along, drop clues, make them *crazy* to know before finally revealing it.

    • I have history-within-history with a side of history going on in mine, so I feel your pain. XD

  26. The worldbuilding point makes me think of a technique used in fanfiction. I write fanfiction as a hobby (and to keep my writing skills well oiled during dry spells), and there’s one trick that I learned of introducing canon elements (i.e. from the source material). Ideally, a good fanfic’s exposition has just enough information for new fans to understand what’s going on yet written in such a way that veteran fans don’t feel like you’re insulting their intelligence. I guess that relates back to your post about “writing two stories” when you’re planning a twist – write your exposition in such a way that the first time a reader goes through (newcomer fans), they will understand what’s going on but hold back so that it’s not overbearing or boring to someone who has gone back and now knows the details you’ve presented in this world (veteran fans).

    • K.M. Weiland | @KMWeiland says:

      That’s a great way to look at it! Actually, I’m sure many writers of “original” series could learn a lot in this respect from fan-fiction.

  27. Irene Fenswick says:

    Actually, when I write I do not pay attention to dumps. But I was forced to think differently by this post. It’s very helpful. Thanks so much.

    • K.M. Weiland | @KMWeiland says:

      It’s not necessarily problematic if you’re not thinking about them during the drafting–as long as you’re aware of them and their effect while revising.

  28. Joe Long says:

    When I started my WIP more than a year and a half ago, I realized I was telling the story as I would if I was sitting with someone, one on one, telling them the tale over a pitcher of beer. There was lots of telling, lots of dumps – this happened, that happened, on and on, with some dialogue thrown in.

    Now that I am rewriting from scratch (same story, with the old writing as a guide) I see it much more as doing a screenplay. Telling in the first person past tense, I imagine the action through the eyes of the MC, what he thinks, says, sees, hears and feels. It’s nearly all dialogue and action beats. If I want to tell the reader something, I find a way for the characters to act it out.

    Honestly, I love it. It’s so much better.

    Thank you Katie for all the help along the way.

    • K.M. Weiland | @KMWeiland says:

      I think a lot of us start out like that. Gives you insight into how storytelling itself has evolved over the years into such a highly specialized form.

  29. Redd Becker says:

    To handle emotional info dumps, I draft interviews with characters after writing a scene to learn how they felt about what happened. Did they agree with so and so? I keep digging with questions until I can’t go any further. During the process character’s emotions become clearer and what I learn is hardly ever what I “thought” a character should think or feel. From there I take the essence of the dialogue and rewrite the scene. Sounds crazy, but it helps; especially with subtext and scenes where characters have conflicting motivations.

  30. Joe Long says:

    I was breezing along, ready to start the third scene of the newest chapter in the second act, when reading through the first draft the klaxons sounded and my inner voice went “Danger Will Robinson! Info dumps ahead.”

    It was the first day back at college in the fall, and I had spent eight paragraphs of my first draft describing a new setting and cast of supporting characters. I sat back and asked myself, “What would Katie do?”

    So I thought that, instead of dumping the info, all the data, I’d just describe the morning, from waking to walking into the first class. What the MC did and saw on the way. He does talk to himself (‘Look out for cops’ as he speeds up the highway.) Need more dialogue? Talk to mom at breakfast, let her complain about how he’s always late from waiting until the last possible minute, etc, etc.

    Eventually, all the info will get dribbled in – if it’s really needed.

  31. This is a great way to distinguish between “showing vs telling” which, while good advice, can be hard to identify. Identifying “information dumps”, especially since you’ve broken them down so well, is so much easier. I agree that it can be part of the proccess to first “dump” the information, as long as writers identify and fix it in later drafts.

    • K.M. Weiland | @KMWeiland says:

      Honestly, the *whole* of writing really comes down to “show vs. tell.” It’s a very vast, very dimensional, very complex topic. Once an author has mastered “showing,” he’s mastered writing. :p

  32. I’m always intrigued by authors who manage to introduce this type of information in a way that pulls me in as the reader.

  33. This is spectacularly helpful. Thanks.

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  1. […] craft of writing I’ve heard about the infamous information dump. They’re essentially four kinds of information dumps according to bestselling author and Jedi master KM Weiland over […]

  2. […] 5. Finally, here are some words from K.M. Weiland on a writing mistake we all make sometimes: Info Dumps. […]

  3. […] 8. Most Common Writing Mistakes, Pt. 50: Info Dumps […]

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