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Info dumps are when you throw a ton of background or description or whatever at a reader to establish a character. It’s boring to read, and readers can’t remember all of it – so don’t do it.
But, but, but… You have a whole new world on Planet Zena that you built, and we need to know where the bathrooms are! The butler not only did it, but he was the illegitimate child of the homeowner, who sent him off to boarding school!
I know. I get it.
You have to get the information conveyed and you don't want to just have the reader going along without knowing things. And some great movies and books have HUGE, NOTICEABLE info dumps! (Jurassic Park, one of my favorite movies, has some. I still love it, and I bet you will spot them now that I mentioned it.) The trick I use is to (A) break the BIG dump up into smaller pieces and (B) have it discussed between characters at a later time. (Readers don’t need everything in chapter one.) That's my main method – conversations - cos my characters talk a lot.
You can also dribble the information in as part of a description of something else (you're discussing Venice and describing its beauty, and tie it in to the MC's hometown or something. That segue allows you some leeway). Once you discover your own comfortable way to do it, you'll be over the hump and not look back. So it's worth it to experiment up front and ask for suggestions from other informed people who read your stories, a.k.a. critique-ers, or “crits.” To make you feel better, allow me to share one of my own foibles. A writer friend and author took pity on me in this very critique group and explained what was wrong. I didn’t figure it out all by my lonesome.
I had a HUGE info dump in The Navigators. Several, in fact. One character was keeping files on most of the other characters, and he was going through them as a device to tell the reader about these people. It was info dump after info dump. Crits ate me alive. I took it all out and found that over the rest of the 30-something chapters, what was needed got in. How?
I made the big info dump into separate files, one per character, and looked at them when I needed some descriptive moments. Little dumps, people don't care about. The files were like reference documents for me. One such little dump was about a privileged college girl who had a big shot father. I took a few hundred words and told everybody all about her and her dad.
Yawn. The fix?
There were a few.
First, I simply had two guys talking about her. One mentioned that the other would have no shot with her, that her daddy was a big politician with eyes on the Florida Governor's mansion and eventually the White House, and that no guy like him was going to be good enough for that kind of girl or that kind of dad. (SPOILER: It wasn't true, and the guy ended up with the girl in the end). Little opportunities like that allow you squeeze in the back story you need. Without looking like it. This added tension (the guy was in love with her) but also explained why her dad was acting the way he was in the story.
The rest of the dump came in when a reporter interviewed the girl. She mentioned that although she could have gone to college anywhere, she stayed in Tampa to kind of watch out for and be close to her dad (her mom had died).
Sneaky, huh? Worked like a charm, too. Try it.
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