You know it. You’ve seen it. One to three paragraphs stuck haphazardly in the middle of a story where you suddenly learn the histories, motivations, and desires of characters and their world that, quite frankly, you never asked for. It goes on and on, distracting from the plot and instead focusing on things that are irrelevant right now.
It is the dreaded info dump. I know. Your readers need to know these things so that when the Big Thing happens later, they’re not confused. But you know what? Spending three paragraphs detailing the apocalypse is not going to help them. In fact, you might even confuse them more. So how do you convey all that information to them without interrupting the flow? Here are a few tips:
- Bring it up when it’s immediately relevant. We just met Tracy, but that doesn’t mean that you need to tell me she runs this bar because she’s always been rebellious and her father never wanted her to do it so that was her way of getting back at him and now she has a cute tattoo of a dragon on her ribs. Are the characters talking about that? No? Then don’t say it. If you want them to know that, have Tracy wear something that reveals that tattoo. Or work it organically into the conversation and have Tracy say, “My dad came in the other day. He’s so pissed. He can’t believe I’m running this place.” Have her laugh afterward. It’s the old motto of show, don’t tell. I know you’re tired of hearing about it.
- Have a character who doesn’t have a clue what’s going on. This is really convenient for when you’ve built a complex world. A character who is either completely foreign to the place or is suffering from amnesia is a great excuse to have other characters explain things to them without an info dump. Just remember that conversations still need to sound like people actually talking.
- Explain a little in your blurb. You know, the thing that goes in the book flap or the few sentences you have to tell readers about it on KDP. Saying something as simple as “In 1964, 6,000 nuclear missiles were launched across the world” is enough to get across some of that exposition that is hard to mention naturally in your story. Antanama is set 150 years after this has happened, so I don’t feel any need to have a character talk about it. It’s a fact of life that all the characters are accustomed to, so putting it in the blurb helps acclimate the reader to the world.
Do you have problems with info dumps? Do you have any tips that I missed? Leave them in the comments!