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. Thanks for this.
    I’m focusing on my dialogue looking for info dumps at the moment. 🙂

  2. Never thought of it like that. I can see where it could become a habit. Im going through my MS too!

  3. Love your hair up like that. Cute! Have a great week! :O)

  4. I agree your hair looks really cute back like that ;o) Great post! Nothing annoys me more than dialogue info dumps! I’ll have to take another look in mine ;o)

    Thanks!

  5. @Lindsay: Happy hunting!

    @Jan: It’s surprisingly easy to do, esp. since we tend to think that, in doing so, we’re being clever about dumping our information.

    @Diane: Thanks!

    @Erica: Dialogue info dumps are another one of this annoyances that make me want to smack myself in the head with the book.

  6. That was fun, that is, getting to know you better through your video!

    Today’s the first occasion when I’ve opted to watch and listen to your video instead of reading.

    Great post! Your personality is just as wonderful as your creative writing.

  7. Thanks so much for watching, Shaddy!

  8. I’ve used a paragraph or so of dialog to set things up – often emotionally – and then switched to a narrative summary. No “I knew that,” either; it’s all new.

  9. If one character is imparting knowledge to another character who doesn’t know what’s going on – and if this passing of knowledge is important to the story – then all is good.

  10. IF the passing of knowledge is important to the story is the key. I once read a book where that was not the case. One character was explaining things to another character—who didn’t know—but none of it mattered to the story. It was as if the author had “researcher’s syndrome.” Granted, after doing all that research, it’s hard to leave some of it behind, but for the sake of our readers, we have to.

  11. It’s true many readers read to learn, but when authors dump info in unrealistic places, all they’re doing is acting as though the reader is too stupid to get it otherwise.

  12. I’m giving you a blogger award because your blog’s one of the best that I’ve read and because it’s so helpful to me. 🙂
    http://parafantasy.blogspot.com/

  13. Thank you. I appreciate that very much!

  14. “I know that!” haha sometimes I want to shout that at info dumpers too. Great post, as always!

  15. I think the other character in the book was as frustrated as I was!

  16. When I write dialogue, it’s pretty sparse; however, I still go through it and pare it down to the bare minimum! 🙂

    Always something useful and informational here!

  17. Dialogue is one of my favorite bits to write just because of the rapid-fire-exchange part of it all.

  18. I’ve read passages just like the one you described, and it always makes me cringe. I don’t think I’ve ever read one with, “I know that!” before, though. Wow.

  19. It’s a royal pain dealing with two ‘experts’ in dialogue, because they’re not going to explain things they both know (or shouldn’t, anyway!). If possible, I try for some internal thought, or to throw in a naive character to explain terminology, etc.

  20. @Kat: It was a bit of a “doi” moment. Lesson learned: whenever one of our characters says that, listen to him! He knows what he’s talking about.

    @Terry: Good point. It takes a lot of artful finessing to convey necessary information and still keep dialogue realistic sometimes.

  21. Well said! The info-dump is now on my radar.

    BTW cute shirt, cute head band, cute nose!

  22. On our radar is a good place to have our enemies – and the info dump is definitely an enemy!

  23. Very helpful as always!

  24. Nice vlog. I like the distinction of the info dump being something both characters would already know. Thanks for dropping by my blog and leaving a comment. Much appreciated.

  25. @Jan: Glad you found it useful!

    @Tara: My pleasure.

  26. 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!

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

  28. 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.

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

  30. 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?

  31. 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.

  32. 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]

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

  34. 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!

  35. 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.

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

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