Tuesday, July 21, 2020

Info Dumps Suck!

I was watching a live chat with an editor friend of mine yesterday and she was talking about first chapters. One of the things that came up was the desire to tell everything the author thinks the readers need to know in that first chapter. This does not just happen in the first chapter, but often happens throughout a book. We call these info dumps. In simple terms, this is when the author has a block of information that is just inserted into a book.

Let's start with what the impact is of these info dumps. First of all, this approach to writing simply slows the reading down. It's like driving along a highway, making really good time, and then get stuck behind a line of trucks on a hill and you are down to a ridiculously slow speed. Ugh!

Secondly, this is going to turn off the reader. Well, maybe not all of the readers, but a good majority. You might think all of the readers need this information, but the reality is that very few are interested in that block of material you just inserted. This is part of the reason why researchers put an appendix into their writing. It essentially says, "If you want to read more about this, go to Appendix C." It works the same way with footnotes and endnotes. In reality though, how many of you stop your reading of a piece of writing such as this, and then go and look at that secondary reading? Probably not a lot. But if you do, think now of how hard it was to get back into the actual reading of the main thesis? The same thing happens with your stories. The info dump becomes a distraction. 

So, how do you deal with getting that information out to the readers? It is important to first ask if that information really is needed? Will this advance the plot? Do you really need to know the true recipe for a meal prepared in 1823? Yes, you might look this up for yourself to determine if the ingredients would have been available at that time or in that location, but unless you are planning to narrate the scene describing the step by step procedure of making the meal, this IS NOT necessary.

Information you provide in your story, from world building to back story needs to show up on a "need to know basis." Give us hints if we need the information for later, if not, hack it. 

The positive part is that all of that information you hacked can now be used to increase your understanding of the characters and their goals, motivations and conflicts. 

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