Among the many ‘rules of writing’ you might come across as someone starting out in writing fiction is the ‘don’t info dump’ rule. It’s especially banded around the fantasy genre, because, you know, stuff needs explaining.
When you’re creating a whole new world with its own tech, history of factions and war, and magic and political systems, how do you not info dump?
What is an info dump?
A lot of writers will info dump at the beginning of their book or story, but some will do it throughout.
Imagine picking up a book and the first few pages are all about a magical system, or a war that led to political strife. That’s an info dump.
You’re telling the reader something that they need to know so that the story makes sense.
Why is that bad?
That’s why many writers will tell you to ignore those ‘writing rules’.
The only thing wrong with an info dump is when it’s done in such a way that it puts the reader off.
Of course, it’s hard to tell what will put a reader off. Everyone likes different things. Books are subjective, after all.
One person may be fascinated by war tales at the beginning of the book, other (like me) will won’t care and will just want to get to the characters and the story.
The main problem is that, if you put it at the beginning of the book, a lot of people will take a look and then immediately stop reading before they even get to the story part.
Even if you put the information in the middle of the book, many readers will skip over those paragraphs.
So how do you do an info dump well?
As with all fiction writing, to break a rule you must break it well.
You can ‘info dump’ but it takes a lot of creativity and hard work.
Here are some info dump techniques to consider if you’re trying to figure out how to tell your reader all about your new world:
-Explain on a need to know basis. Keep the reader involved in the story by only revealing pieces of information as and when they need to know it to keep the plot moving forward. This will keep the reader guessing and engaged with the story and it means that the information won’t detract from your characters.
-Use dialogue to reveal the information. Got a character who’s new to the situation? Fantastic! Have another character who’s in the know explain to them what they and the reader needs to know. This means that you can ‘info dump’ in your characters’ voices, making it much more interesting. You can even involve wit, humour or a full-blown argument. It’s a great excuse for more character development.
-Reveal information during action scenes. Not only will the plot be moving but so will your characters. Your reader will get caught up in what’s going on and how the characters will come through this, while at the same time they’re learning the why and how.
-What if your characters already know what’s going on? Weave the necessary information into the scenes. As a writer, you’ll be very aware that you often go off into your own rambling thoughts. I’m pretty sure non-writers do too. And I’m pretty sure your characters probably do as well. Give a little exposition, tie it into a character’s thoughts to bring the story back to them.
You want an example?
In Matter of Time, I had Del walking through the castle to meet with King Rupert. It was a tense time. Del was potentially going to meet her doom. I start the scene with the history of the castle and the monarchs that came before, ending with Del gazing around as she walks through. It’s been a while since she was last there. She’s pondering the history – anything to keep her mind off where she’s going.
It’s only a little piece of information that the readers should know so it was short, but it was almost a way of giving the reader a breather before we jump back into something very tense.
-The same thing can be done with objects. If there’s a sword/book/amulet/ring/etc that’s key to the information the reader needs to know, then have your character pick it up or look at it. Use their thoughts and actions to explain to the reader why the object is important, what it means and why.
‘Info dumps’, done wrong, are boring. No one wants to read pages of characters doing nothing while something is explained.
Tie the information the reader needs to know into the plot and characters. Use objects, action, dialogue and inner-most thoughts to explain things to the reader.
Remember, rules are made to be broken. Do what’s right for your story.
Just put the work in and get creative.
Make it fun and have fun. Your readers will thank you.
Are you ready to get writing in 2018?
Next week I’m giving away a free printable 2018 writing planner for everyone on my list. So make sure you join up right here before Monday 4 December.