Info Dumps Don't Belong in Dialogue

Info Dumps Don’t Belong in Dialogue

Info Dumps Don't Belong in DialogueDialogue is such a handy little technique that we sometimes try to force it to carry more of a load than it should. One of the loads dialogue should never have to bear is the weight of info dumps.

When characters start telling each other things they already know, just to keep the poor ignorant reader informed, their dialogue often teeters under the unnecessary burden.

Think Your Dialogue Info Dumps Are Subtle? Think Again

Take, for example, a historical mystery, in which the author needed to keep readers up to date on the state of a war. To do this, she chose to insert the info in a lengthy paragraph of dialogue.

This isn’t necessarily a problem, except both the character talking and the character listening were already more than aware of this information—as was driven home when the listening character waited patiently for the first character’s speech to end, then made the ploy even more obvious by shouting, “I know that!”

The Quick and Easy Way to Avoid Dialogue Info Dumps

The necessity of telling readers important facts—whether those facts are character backstories, scientific data, historical settings, or whatever—is common to almost every story.

Slipping information into dialogue often seems like an easy way to remain as invisible as possible, but allowing characters to conduct unbelievable discussions in which they hash over what, for them, is old news, only draws more attention than ever to info dumps.

In most instances, you’ll have much better luck sketching your information in a quick paragraph of narrative, rather than forcing it into dialogue that doesn’t ring true to either the situation or the characters.

Wordplayers, tell me your opinion! What’s your favorite method for sharing necessary information without resorting to info dumps? Tell me in the comments!

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About K.M. Weiland | @KMWeiland

K.M. Weiland is the award-winning and internationally-published author of the acclaimed writing guides Outlining Your Novel, Structuring Your Novel, and Creating Character Arcs. A native of western Nebraska, she writes historical and fantasy novels and mentors authors on her award-winning website Helping Writers Become Authors.

Comments

  1. @Jan: Glad you found it useful!

    @Tara: My pleasure.

  2. One of my crit partners told me that I was using info dump in some dialogue for one scene. I didn’t agree with her, but now I can see that it is okay for me to keep that part in because I was giving new information. Thanks for sharing this!

  3. Readers are always interested in learning new information. It’s just how we present it that’s important.

  4. Thank you this was well done. And as usual some good information. I wish I had the courage to get in front of a camera. You do a great job.

  5. Thank you. And, believe me, if I can do it, anyone can.

  6. Totally agreed; but do you think there are legitimate times, when dialogue can be an effective tool for providing needed exposition, when the character doing the listening is just as much in the dark as the reader, so that it rings true to the story?

  7. Absolutely. In fact, dialogue can be one of the most effective, entertaining, and invisible ways of conveying necessary information – but *only* if it’s done in a skillful way that rings true to the story and the characters.

  8. Anonymous says

    I have just recently attempted to write a book, don’t ask why; I have none of the requisite skills or background for such an undertaking. The only excuse that I can offer is that I had no choice, it just had to be done.

    I stumbled upon your lessons on YouTube and immediately loved them. They get right to the point with helpful tips and remain clear throughout. I was so impressed that I went to Amazon and ordered a copy of, Outlining Your Novel: Map Your Way to Success without hesitation.

    Thanks ever so much,
    C. C. Conrad
    [email protected]

  9. Thanks for stopping by! I’m so glad you’ve enjoyed the videos – and I hope you enjoy Outlining as well. Happy writing!

  10. Marissa John says

    Very helpful!

    My critique partners and I have an info dump codephrase as we read each other’s work. We call it, “As you know, Bob.”. Summarizing important info in dialogue is so tempting, but it can drag a story. Going in the hunt!

  11. Sean Ryan says

    Good reminder. I’ve been guilty, though usually at least one of the characters doesn’t know all the information that’s being imparted.

    • K.M. Weiland | @KMWeiland says

      That’s the key really. If you can reasonably insert an ignorant character, he can be a great aid!

      • Dániel Büki says

        Oh I was just worrying about this. I had a scene in which the mentor character finally explains something to the protagonist, some basic rules of the adventure world that he needs to know for everything to make sense. I was worrying that this scene would be considered an info dump, but every time I read about info dumps, I see information that is already known by all characters and only mentioned so that the reader knows it as well.

        As a reader I have always found explanation scenes fascinating (when timed well!), and I was sort of afraid I was wrong for some reason. I’ll still need to pay attention to how exactly am I presenting the information, and I will only share the basics of the operation, but at least I now realized I don’t need to cut the scene itself.

  12. So…you’re saying we creative writers have to, uh, be creative?

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