Grigory Ryzhakov – Russian Writer

Fiction and infodumps: are they really a total “no way”?

Real story, but I won’t mention any names.  Recently someone gave me a sci-fi book, which boasts 4+ stars on Amazon. I have started reading it, and after having an interesting hook on pages 1-2 the story went into a massive infodump. Fifteen pages on and I gave up reading, so I will never know where that infodump ended –

Grisha, you ask me, what is infodump?  Well, it is a huge amount of knowledge, or background information put into a story in one big chunk. Imagine yourself asking a friend about his thoughts on a film, and he suddenly delivers a half-an-hour lecture swarming with all sorts of technical details.

A mighty dump – By S. Müller (Own work) [CC-BY-2.5 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/2.5)], via Wikimedia Commons

Infodump is something writers do to achieve exposition – a literary method allowing them to describe characters, setting, etc. in a story to the reader. I could give you a lecture on exposition here, but that would be an infodump too.

Even a blog post needs to be conversational like a dynamic dialogue. Wikipedia is for dry theory, check out its infodumps.

I tell you I’m not an extremely picky reader and I normally tolerate infodumps, but NOT when they are in the beginning of the book. First chapters are not for thorough world-building or lengthy descriptions, they are about characters and setting up the conflict or the big idea.

Even if your head is boiling with information (like Sheldon Cooper’s does very often), try using incluing, a technique of gradual submersion of the reader into the world of your story. Jasper Fforde used incluing quite successfully in Shades of Grey. Incluing may be a difficult technique to master, but the reader is always worth it.

When can infodumps work?  Often they do in comic fiction. Parodying infodumps is bread for many writers. The Big Bang Theory TV series is an example: the character Sheldon Cooper regularly indulges himself with infodumps.  They annoy other characters, but work for us, because we laugh.

Infodumps can be played as TV show snippets, interviews or something else inserted into your story. They can be used to smuggle in a subtextual message.  Turn them upside down and they can add a lot to your story.  Make a story within a story out of an infodump using a literary style distinct from your story.  I have come across the above-mentioned examples in the literary fiction.

Sheldon, Penny and the mighty infodump (Still of Kaley Cuoco and Jim Parsons in The Big Bang Theory)

To me the infodump is one of the biggest abuses in non-fiction. In topical books and biographies. Surprised? You would think that wouldn’t be a case. I personally disliked the majority of the non-fiction books I’ve read. Some of them, however, were good, and I really wanted to know why.  And then it dawned on me.

You just can’t give a book long lecture, even a non-fiction book needs to talk with the reader.  Explanations need to be mixed with personal reflections, little jokes, arguments, quotes, sub-stories.  Any good non-fiction is an emotional and intellectual roller-coaster exactly like fiction.

If you think this post was a waste of your time (for it is possible that you already know everything and a lot more than me) or you simply want to know more, – try a different wisdom.

KM Weiland warns about infodumps in dialogues here and here.

Janice Hardy’s take on infodumps: examples and solutions

Are you a reader? What are the most ridiculous infodumps you’ve ever encountered?

Are you a writer?  Do you have an efficient way of dealing with infodumps? Share it with the world.

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  • http://twitter.com/AntonioAngelo21 Antonio Angelo

    a good technique when writing is too go ahead and write the info dump to give yourself a solid back ground of your subject then go back and decide how much of the information is critical to the reader and cut it down to the bare minimum.   It keeps it interesting if the reader can make inferences and be brought along but not have things spelled out exactly. 

    you can introduce an older character that sits with his back to the wall, his old sharp eyes scanning every movement without telling the reader any other background and you have someone that is of interest. 

    If you take the same character and talk about his 4 tours in vietnam, 20 years on the police force before he had a falling out involving a lieutenant and a discharged firearm in the station leading to an early retirement that goes on for 3 pages you have just info dumped your reader.

    • GrigoryRyzhakov

       thank you for your thoughts, Antonio. I agree with you on that. The first draft can have info-dumps for you as a writer, but editing should eliminate them. At the same time, enough should be left for the reader to understand what’s going on :))