Nothing slows down a story worse than paragraphs of description. It becomes even more problematic when an author chooses to open a novel with too much backstory. This ruins the hook and can often result in the loss of the reader.
Here’s the thing, as authors, we seem to have fallen into the trap of thinking we have to explain every little thing that goes on in our novel. The truth (and the beauty of this) is, we don’t.
Jerry Jenkins, author of the international best-selling Left Behind series, is quoted to say:
“Less detail is often better”Jerry Jenkins, https://jerryjenkins.com/blog/
This has never been more true in today’s publishing industry.
The fact is, “info-dumping” does not help your story. You don’t have to explain every little thing.
So what is “info-dumping?” Why do authors think they need it? Most importantly, what are some good ways to get rid of it?
What is Info-Dumping?
Ellen Brock gives a great description of what an info-dump is:
For those who don’t know what an info dump is, it’s an extended form of telling (rather than showing). An info dump is a big chunk of information that is “dumped” in the reader’s lap all at once. These info dumps are usually done through narration but can be found in dialogue as well.Ellen Brock, NOVEL BOOT CAMP – LECTURE #3: HOW TO AVOID INFO DUMPING
The fact is, relying on info-dumping is shifting attention from the plot which is the more vital part of the story you’re trying to tell. It slows things down (as previously mentioned) and can often come off as “alright already” moments.
Some of the most common cases of info-dumping can include:
- How things work (government, magic, etc)
- Different creatures or races
- Landscape or houses (living quarters)
- How someone looks (really bad in romance)
- Technology (prevalent in science fiction)
- And many more…
Why Do Authors Think They Need It?
As previously mentioned, authors think they need to paint the picture for their readers rather than letting the reader do it themselves. The beauty of reading is it allows the reader to develop their own pictures in their mind.
Info-Dumping is “telling” not “showing.” It is always better to do as much showing as possible. Let your reader paint the picture of Mr.Wonderful from your romance novel or the wicked beast in your horror novel.
It keeps them engaged, develop theories and at times, leads them to contact you (the author) to ask questions and spread word of your novels.
Rule of thumb: If you choose to use an info-dump, keep it brief! A few sentences max.
How Can You Avoid or Get Rid of It?
The easiest way to avoid and eliminate info-dumping is to ask yourself the following questions:
- Does the reader really need to know this? If so, can I split it up via dialogue and narrative?
- Is it prudent to the story? Meaning does it contribute to the plot? If not, get rid of it.
- Can I replace the dump with conflict (a scene) capable of delivering the same information? For example, if the dump is backstory, maybe the villain and the hero have history. Can you give a hint of backstory through brief banter?
- Can the info be delivered in an already existing scene?
- Do not be afraid of re-writing. Info-dumps are a very common problem in first drafts. Often an author can slip into writing them and not recognize what they’re doing.
- Scenes can become info-dumps. For example, an office scene where two characters are talking can easily become cumbersome to the reader. Keep it short, keep it brief.
- Show! Don’t tell as much as possible. Readers like to create an image in their minds.
- Make it creative!
- Have beta readers look over your novel prior to send it publishers. Many require manuscripts to at least have two rounds of rough editing. Nothing burdens an editor worse than having to re-write large amounts of info-dumping.
For further reading:
- NOVEL BOOT CAMP – LECTURE #3: HOW TO AVOID INFO DUMPING
- HOW TO DUMP INFO WITHOUT INFO DUMPING
- HOW MUCH IS TOO MUCH BACKSTORY?