Friday, 1 February 2013

The dreaded info-dump

I have been rolling around so many idea's  for this next blog, I still have a few things I have promised I would write about but the one thing that has been coming up consistently is the issue of the dreaded info-dump...

Yes info dump. It's not so exciting and chances are at first you may not even realise you are doing it.  To me info-dump is any place your pace slows while you impart information to your reader. This includes back story, explanations and even excessive explanatory internal or even external dialogue.

I have recently revised my first MS that I had not looked at in many months. The bottom draw may have been the best thing that ever happened to it. I had not know then, when I filled it away for safe-keeping and worked on MS number two, three, and four, that I was doing any of that.

My writing was tight, my story carefully crafted, my explanations were relevant and important, and my heroine's internal narrative realistic and accessible... Oh, but ignorance is bliss. Let me just say there may have been some heavy head-desking taking place in my study over the weeks (not days as I had originally thought) that it is still taking me to revise the damn thing.

Did I really, really truly, just have my MC think broodingly for two pages about what she might/might not do? Reality hit me hard, but so did determination. Suffice to say I have shaved about 5,000 words so far and counting. I now have the skills to fix what I couldn't see then, so that is probably one other thing that has been playing on my mind lately. Don't be scared to hold onto something for a while your craft blossoms, it will only help your work. I know it has for me, significantly.

Info dump is probably the most common niggle I have come across while critiquing, so I think it is a universal problem for writers who are still practicing their polish. While yes, most of these things come through practice, it would have been great if someone had spelled it out to me in the first place. I read a lot of writing blogs, the problem is I see a post about info-dump and all I get from it is... info-dump is bad, it slows your pace so don't do it...   

I have not actually seen many tips given for how to identify and fix info-dump. I know it clicked for me when I learned a little more about structure and deep-editing. So these are is my humble solutions for info-dump.

Identify the issue! Whenever the following takes place, stop and think.

·         Writing about things that happened in the past. (Back-story)

·         Explanation of situations, characters, and relationships.

·         Excessive 'thinking' or 'talking' from your characters to explain thoughts and feelings.

Basically, these all come down to thinking you must explain things to your reader. Someone once gave me a great piece of advice; trust your reader's intelligence enough to allow them to draw their own conclusions. Readers do not need everything spelled out for them. It is the same as showing and telling.

Instead of explaining how MC is distrustful of men because of her cheating ex - show us by having her be distrustful, and may be give us a hint of her past by having the briefest thought about her ex, while doing it. Not an obvious one; a subtle, delicate hint. In my opinion suggestion is the key.

A good rule of thumb on how to weave in info seamlessly and delicately is to strictly only write one small line of explaining at any given time. Any more is too much. A hint here - a clue there.

So when you find yourself about to start 'explaining' something to the reader stop and think; How critical is it to the story? How does it move the plot forward? Can you show this another way? Can you hint at it without explaining?

My Motto about info-dump; Hinting is more effective, and suggestion more powerful, both build more tension - than telling ever can.

If you are writing, or even if you are revising and wondering how you can pick up the pace, and what you need to cull, I hoped this will help. If you have found this useful, or have any questions please do comment. Thanks for visiting :)


  1. Such good advice, Amber. I've had some serious struggles around the info dump issue because there is an ancient, forgotten legend that comes into play in my MS...where/when do I reveal this backstory? I wrote reams of pages on this only to later delete them; because I was *explaining*...this is such a good word to use to help us realize when we are info-dumping...great post!

    1. Thanks so much A.J! That is a hard one, this might sound silly, but my advice would be to pick up something like Harry Potter or another book that deals with 'secrets' and 'legends' and study how the genius's do it :)

      Let me know if you want any help, happy to read some for you and give impressions?

  2. This is a great post, Amber. I'm guilt of info dumping with descriptions. Yesterday I cut 2K words of setting description that was clumped throughout my action sequences. Talk about slowing the pace down!

    1. Thank so much for your comments Stacey :) I think we are all guilty of it, but at least we can edit it out. it's still scary snipping those thousands of words off an MS...