What Is Info Dumping… And How Do You Deal with It? By Tom Turner
I was recently asked by an aspiring fantasy writer how I deal with “info dumping”. Now, I’ve been at this writing thing for some time and yet was unfamiliar with this term. After a bit of Internet sleuthing, I soon realized what she was actually asking me about was exposition—those crucial bits of background info that if just ‘dumped’ and not interwoven into the narrative can grind your story to a halt. I thought her question was a good one, not only as it pertained to writing for fantasy, but writing in general. Here’s what I told her.
Exposition is about balance: How much is too much? How much is not enough? At the risk of sounding cliché, it’s like dangling the proverbial carrot in front of the horse—you, the writer, are the driver, manipulating this delicious expositive veggie in front of the horse (your reader—sorry readers!) And the horse is hungry. It wants the carrot. But bring it in too close, and the horse snags it easily and the carriage (your story) grinds to a halt. Dangle it too far, and the horse loses interest and the carriage, again, grinds to a halt. So it’s about finding that sweet spot. About keeping the reader engaged and turning the page, learning and discovering as your story unfolds, but in a way that’s just enough and not so heavy-handed or obscure that they lose interest. How do you successfully achieve this? Some of it is instinct. Some is learned in the trenches. But here are a few tips to aid in your journey.
- Be ruthless! But not at first. On your first pass (the ‘for your eyes only’ draft) just write. Get everything on the page you feel you need to tell your story. But on your next pass, in the rewriting phase, it’s time to get ugly. Be ruthless with your red pen. Ask yourself constantly: Is this absolutely necessary? Does my reader need this to understand the world… the characters? Do they need to know it right now? Is it something that can come later? Or be conveyed in a more efficient and interesting way? It’s about prioritization of information. If it isn’t driving the story forward or providing a crucial bit of info, get rid of it.
- Write to the highest common denominator! I always give readers the benefit of the doubt. They are smart! Trust them. You need to explain less than you think. This becomes apparent when rewriting… especially as you share your story with others for comment. You don’t need to spell out every little thing, only to give your reader just enough pieces to the puzzle. They’ll do the rest. They’ll fill in the blanks.
- Show, don’t tell! Have information come across in action, understood by what the characters are doing—not by what you tell the reader. In my recent novel, Sign of the Sandman, the main character becomes convinced mysterious men with gold eyes are following him, even though he’s the only one able to perceive the gold. We understand something strange is occurring, not because I spent a page telling the reader, but because of what the character sees and how he reacts to it. The reader experiences the fear and confusion along with him. Crucial information is weaved into the story in a unique and interesting way, which brings me to the last point…
- Make it interesting! If you have to get information across, do it in a way that is engaging… in a way that matters to the characters and isn’t just for the readers’ benefit. Make it an argument, for instance! Do it in a way that shows the character in great peril! Or doing something extraordinary! If the information matters to the characters it will matter to the reader.
I hope the above tips are not only helpful as they relate to exposition and info dumping but also to your writing in general. I hope they inspire you to dig in and put pen to the page (or fingers to the keyboard.) Writing is the careful art of withholding information, and the more you do it, the better you’ll get. Try to enjoy the process and embrace the journey.
We’d like to give away a signed, hardcover first edition copy of the book. They have set up a giveaway on Rafflecopter. It goes live tonight at midnight and runs through midnight December 1st.
ABOUT THE AUTHOR
TOM TURNER’s recently released fantasy-adventure novel, Sign of the Sandman, garnered a rare five-heart rating from Foreword Reviews, and 2013 Norton Award winning author E.C. Myers called it, “A delightful adventure featuring smart, wisecracking heroes and breathtaking action that will make young readers laugh and gasp alike.” Find out more about the book at www.SignoftheSandman.com.
Sign of the Sandman Twitter: https://twitter.com/SandmanSaga
Tom Turner Twitter: https://twitter.com/readTomTurner
Official book teaser: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=qytuShoBq_0