Friday, March 15, 2013

The Urge To Infodump

It’s a very exciting time for me right now. As I mentioned last week, I’ve begun work on another story and my desk is covered with pages of notes on characters, subplots, and world-building details. World-building isn’t something I’ve had to do before. My previous story was fan fiction, and even though that story had all new characters and plotline, it still used someone else’s world. This time, I have to build the world myself.

I’ve been constructing this world in my head for the last six months, filling it with all sorts of interesting details about how it all works and how it will impact the MC. It’s beginning to come together, which makes me happy, but now that I’m writing some of the early chapters, the urge to infodump is growing exponentially and threatening to burst out of my chest. Kinda like that little critter in Alien.

It’s only natural. All these world-building details are burning a hole in my notebook and it’s hard not to want to deliver this information to the reader ASAP. I want the reader to enjoy it as much as I do. But that’s one of those bad habits a writer needs to constantly fight against. I may want the reader to get to know my world quickly, but that’s not what’s best for either the story or the reader—especially if the information is delivered via an infodump.

Infodumps can drag a story to a halt. And even if they’re written in an entertaining way that keeps the story moving forward, there’s still a problem. Releasing information too quickly robs the reader of some of the excitement. In many sci-fi and fantasy stories, half the fun is in discovering the world and how it works. This works best if you dribble out information a little bit at a time and give the reader the chance to wonder why things are as they are. If you dole it all out at once, the reader never has a chance to ask himself why. Why are all the birds in this world red? Why can’t the mage perform magic in the presence of fire? Give the reader a chance to ponder those questions a while before you explain it to him.

It’s okay for your first chapter or two to act as placeholders for your infodumps. Just make sure you move them somewhere else in the story later.

Anyone else have trouble with early infodumps?


  1. In a word, yes. As recently as writers' conference. The women on the panel did not want to know about the dead brother on page one. They didn't even want to know about bullies until they cared about the character. So too much info for a male is not the same as for a female. But in earlier versions, I gave too much info for both at the start. I may never get it right. Oh, dribble.

  2. I'm convinced that the real problem with info dumps is authors who try to shove them in places in the story where they don't belong. If you're in the middle of an action sequence or a part of the story where there's supposed to be suspense and tension then you just don't stop to info dump. However, most stories have ups and downs. They have times of action and times of rest for the characters. The times of rest are where you put the info dumps.

    The Lord of the Rings is a great example. You have the suspense and action of the flight to Rivendell for several chapters. But then they get there safely and are allowed a time of rest. Tolkien uses that time to allow the reader to rest and learn along with the characters. The Council of Elrond is an entire chapter long info dump, but it's fascinating. It's the point there the full conflict of the story finally takes shape. And it doesn't interrupt the flow of the story at all.

    Personally, I enjoy info dumps, when they are placed and used competently. And I suspect a lot of fantasy readers do as well.