Yeah, I find it way more effective to just use an attractive image of an epic fantasy landscape rather than find an image that actually illustrates the point of the article. Way easier, too. But, *evil cackle* whether you like it or not, there’s nothing you can do to stop me! Wait…what are you doing? No, wait! Don’t click away from this article!
But yes…info dumping. Ah, where to begin? Well, I should start by saying that info dumping is the #1 thing that all writers struggle with, and a perfect avoidance of info dumping (I mean, conveying information in a way other than info dumping) leads to mastery of writing. After all, a story is just a collection of information told interestingly.
As in all writing, everything has a place, even the dreaded info dump. But 999 times out of a thousand, that information is placed too densely and early for the reader to care, and is a serious blow to the reader’s motivation to keep reading. It sticks out like a sore thumb, unavoidable. Why then do so many writers, even experienced ones, fall to this prey to this mistake?
Often the motivation for lengthy info dumps is enthusiasm for the story’s cooler elements. What a lot of writers forget, however, is that when readers first pick up your book they’re not nearly as enthusiastic about it as you. Therefore the knowledge doesn’t excite them. For example, your readers won’t care about a secret that one of the main characters has until they’ve read on and convinced themselves that it’s really important, at which point they’ll be begging for an info dump.
Don’t explain your lore and history like a nerd accosting a random stranger on the street. All too often, this is what information dumps feel like. So that’s your first guideline for avoiding info dumps: introduce information when the reader is most likely to care. Some information, like a prologue, is 100% necessary to the plot and characters of the story, and therefore it’s more effective to make the prologue have a direct impact on the story so that the reader feels like the information you just gave him or her actually matters.
A pro writing tip from Brandon Sanderson: work info dumps into dialogue as well as you can. This helps alleviate some of the reader’s suspicion that the author is directly telling him or her about something like a bored schoolteacher. I always say that characters talk about what’s important to them, so if you make the information prevalent to the character, they’ll find reason to talk about it, thus alerting the reader.
However, the single best thing you can do when trying to fix info dumps is to cut information that doesn’t further the story. If it’s not interesting or necessary, it should be cut. To quote Kurt Vonnegut:
“Every sentence must do one of two things–reveal character or advance the action.”– Kurt Vonnegut
To be honest, it’s fun to get caught up in the creation of an immersive world. Creating backstories for landmarks, fortresses, countries, and people makes you feel like the god of your own world. It encourages many people who were previously shy and uncreative to go buck-wild with all manner of cool things. But remember this: the reader doesn’t want to hear histories and backstories. At least, not now. Save that stuff for later and cram it into dialogue.
Good luck, and happy writing!
Be sure to check out my latest novel, Book 1 in the Praetors of Lost Magic Series, and our Publications page. Plus, I mean, it wouldn’t hurt to check out the Resources tab. It’s full of super helpful material and I promise it will help you out. Until then, writers!