When you become a writer, one of the “rules” you’re advised to learn is to avoid info-dumping.
If you haven’t heard of it before, it’s when the writer bombards the reader with everything they think they should know—all at once.
While you might think there’s no way you do that, info-dumping is an easy trap to fall into. It’s one of those writer-blind spots where we can easily see it in other’s work, but don’t notice it in our own.
It can worm its way in like typo gremlins, but here are some likely places you’ll find info-dumping so you can work out ways to avoid it.
5 Ways To Avoid Info-Dumping
Check The Starts
Info-dumping likes to live at the start of things, such as the first chapter, the first introduction of a character, or the first instance of world-building. It sets up home there because the writer makes it the perfect place to build.
Think about what happens when you’re penning the first draft. You’re discovering the story, telling it to yourself, and getting it all on the page. Once it’s there, we forget to examine it in later drafts for info-dumping.
As an example, let’s say it’s the first time your MC has visited the place your story is set. Trying to work out where you’re going with it, your writer-brain brought in another character with a lengthy explanation of the town’s history and why no one goes near the creepy abandoned two-story house on Cliché Crescent.
You needed to know those things to move onto your next chapter, but it’s likely the reader doesn’t need to know it all on their first read.
The story could be so much more interesting if the weird town is revealed in layers instead. Mention that it’s a weird place when the MC arrives, but hint at the rest. The background of the house on Cliché Crescent can come later when it will have an impact instead of being lost in an info-dump.
With that tip in mind, check every place in your WIP where you introduce a character, setting, or nugget of knowledge, and see how it can be split into just one tantalizing drop of info, with the rest to follow later. You’ll be avoiding an info-dump and creating plenty of intrigue to keep the reader turning those pages.
Manage The Monologuing
A monologue can really make or break a scene. It’s a good way to reveal things, remind the reader of events, and show off your dialogue skills, but it’s also a very easy place to dump all of your info.
The villain monologue is a classic example. Here you have the enemy of your MC—mostly likely sitting in a chair patting a cat—while they lay out their evil plan. They think they’re smart. They usually end it with an evil laugh, satisfied that they’ve gotten the better of everyone. More like bored everyone!
Monologuing all of your info is not the way to keep the reader entertained. Manage it instead. Get the info across in a back-and-forth battle between your villain and hero, revealing the info as they trade barbs between blows.
If all the info has to be known at a specific point in your novel, get it in, just not all at once in a speech that wouldn’t happen in real life. A James Bond villain might not approve of your methods, but readers will.
Drip It In And Stretch It Out
As mentioned already, info-dumping usually arises in the first draft. The best thing about second drafts is that you can use them to rearrange those dumps and move them elsewhere.
Look at each scene and highlight any big blocks of info. Once you know what the info is, break it up into smaller parts and look for the places where you can drip it in, and stretch it out across the book.
Treating your info like this rather than dumping it all in one place will add suspense and tension to your story—which is something every good read needs.
Fine-Tune The Dialogue
Similar to monologuing, info-dumping in your dialogue is when your characters are having a conversation just to get the info across. It’s usually stilted and wraps up once the right info is imparted.
To reveal info in dialogue without it being a dump, fine-tune it so it’s a natural part of the conversation and effortlessly fits in with what’s happening in the scene.
Make It Relevant
Just like dumpy dialogue that sticks out like a sore thumb, if you’re putting your info in places it’s not needed, or during scenes where more important things are happening, you risk pulling the reader from the story.
Let’s go back to our example of the MC in the weird town with the abandoned house. He’s heard the rumors and wants to test them for himself. Now, in the abandoned house on Cliché Crescent, he finds a dark basement. He’s creeping down the stairs, strange noises assaulting his ears, nothing in front of him but pitch-black, and he decides to info-dump the history of the house he’s learned or some background about how he’s hated basements since he was a kid after accidentally being locked in one.
Is any of that relevant for the character and story? Yes. Could you work it in at a different time and not when all the creepy action is taking place? Yes! And you should.
Don’t ruin the read with irrelevant info-dumping. Don’t halt the momentum of a chase scene by stopping to describe the surroundings.
Check all of your intense scenes, action chapters, emotional arcs that are about to pay off, or plot points ready to twist, and don’t weigh them down with big chunks of info! Put it in the relevant places instead and the reader will know more about the story and your characters, but not at the cost of your pacing.
Did any of this sound familiar? Is info-dumping something you’ve been guilty of as a writer, or one of your reading pet-peeves? Let’s discuss it in the comments!
— K.M. Allan