Every piece of action, dialogue, scene, chapter, etc. of a novel must do one of two things. It either must move the story forward or reveal character. Okay, maybe that’s a bit simplified because there is a need to establish setting, among a few other things, but the difficult part is getting all the necessary information out to readers in a natural way.

When a writer gives this relevant information out all at once, it’s called an info-dump. These info-dumps not only slow a story to a crawl, but readers tend to skip over them because of the lack movement. There is usually no forward story progress. Let me give you an example of a setting info-dump:

The house was painted a dull gray with blue-green trim and the lawn hadn’t been cut in ages. Flower boxes hung from the window frames and had seen better days. Inside, the already brown carpet had stained from years of disuse and gave a sense of being trapped in a brown paper bag. Even the couch and loveseat, which sagged with depression, were brown.

Across from the couch was an entertainment center and atop it sat a flat screen TV. Inside the cubbies were a satellite receiver, an Xbox, and a Blue-Ray player. These were also covered with a layer of dust. A coffee table sat in the center of the room, a lone magazine, outdated now, was married to the layer of dirt that collected on top.

Next was the kitchen. The appliances were shiny stainless steel once. The refrigerator was directly across from the dishwasher. A knife block sat on the counter empty…

There isn’t much there and all it does is tell the reader what the setting is like. Having a character interact with a setting brings it to life and gives it meaning. Maybe someone is walking though this sad house and swipes a finger across the dust. That would give it a different feel, a different meaning, than if a teen was walking through the house and wrote their name in the dirt on the floor.

These things can sneak into our writing when describing characters as well. For example:

She had short brown hair the color of tea and her eyes matched perfectly. She was 5’6” and was born to a middle class family on the east side of town. Her parents had been married, with some argument from her grandparents, in the house that she grew up in. She loved school as a child and so it spurred her interest in becoming a teacher. She graduated top honors in her class then went on the local university so she could stay close to her family.

After graduating college she got her first job working with third graders. She didn’t like that very much and decided that she wanted to work with kindergarteners, so after a year she transferred schools. That didn’t fare any better, and she realized she didn’t like working with small children at all. When she transferred yet again, she ended up at the high school. High schoolers can be a mean bunch, and it brought back memories from when she was bullied for getting good grades.

One day, during the summer, she helped a poor little dog on the side of the road who had been hit by a car. She immediately took him to the vet where they patched him up and sent them home. She fell in love with the little mutt and longed to help other injured creatures. By this time, though, she was bored with her hometown and decided she needed an adventure. That’s what brought her to Boro Boro where she works to rehabilitate iguanas.

Not only is it an info-dump, most of the information isn’t relevant to the story (not to mention poorly written in general). Unless her parents getting married in the same house she grew up in makes a difference later, it doesn’t need to be there. In real life we don’t get someone’s life story the first time we meet them. We grow to understand who they are over time by some of their past experiences, but we mostly get to know them by the experiences we share with them. Remember that the reader wants to get to know your characters that way as well.

One way to tell if you have an info-dump is to skim through your manuscript and, as in the examples above, a tell-tale sign is a lot of exposition lumped together. Long paragraphs tend to ramble on, trying too hard to explain things.

Pick out some of the most important information from those info-dumps and reuse them where they will make the most sense. Readers don’t need to know about the pearl handled revolver until the first time it is seen/mentioned/used in the story, and not before. They certainly don’t need to know about it if it is never used in some capacity.

Info-dumps can sometimes be hard to work around, especially when everything written is important. Just remember to sprinkle those facts around as best you can.

What ways have you been able to work out an info-dump? Tell me below!


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