Rather than introducing information organically, infodumps deliver it in large blocks. They aren’t in scene, they stall the plot, and because they usually appear as a wall of text they’re actually much harder for readers to parse. This is the article about how you recognize them and what you can do to fix them.
What Is an Infodump? How Do I Know If I’ve Written One?
Infodumps are large blocks of exposition.They generally lack context, and provide a lot of information all at once. Most often, they appear in the form of a narratorial aside (that is to say, the narrator pauses the story to explain things), although they can also show up as long expository monologues.
It’s common for infodumps to focus on world-building details, such as history, geography, or the rules of a magic system. It’s also common for them to show up when a writer wants to unload a lot of character backstory all at once.
Infodumps make it more difficult for readers to figure out what’s important because they remove a lot of the textual clues and emotional signals from characters. This leaves readers with a large quantity of information and no hints about how they should interpret it, which means that most of it washes over them without getting absorbed.
When readers can absorb the information, infodumps are the natural enemy of subtext and subtlety. They spell things out for readers in the most heavy-handed way possible and leave little for the reader to puzzle out.
Wow. Infodumps Are Awful. How Do I Fix This?
Say What’s Important
Figure out what the reader needs to know in order to understand the story, and what’s relevant in the moment. Infodumps usually involve too much information. Removing irrelevant information makes it easier for readers to identify what is important. Remember that the amount of description that a detail receives should be directly proportionate to how important it is.
Think carefully about what you need to set up, and what can be saved for later. It’s okay to leave small gaps in what you tell the reader and to fill things in as they come up. It helps to bear in mind that the point of the world, character backstories, magic system, etc. exist to serve the story, and not the other way around. No matter how cool a detail is, if it gets in the way of the story, you’re better off saving it for later. Not only will readers wait for it, but they’ll be more excited to get the information if it’s introduced properly.
Weave the Information into the Story
If something is truly important, it is probably come up organically. The more information that you can impart in-scene, the easier it is for readers to pick up on things. Using minor details in the background helps to give the story texture without interrupting the narrative. Don’t be afraid to use your setting and physical grounding to give readers hints.
Likewise, you can use your characters. Considering how they interact with each other and the world around them can provide opportunities to introduce tidbits of information. Just mind that you temper their reactions based on what they already know. A character who understands how magic works will probably not ask a lot of questions about it, be surprised by its basic principles, or get excited when someone else tries to lecture them on this subject. On the other hand, a character who’s new to it might.
Also consider where the characters are and what they’re likely to notice. The odds of someone in a high-stress action scene stopping to deliver a history lesson are pretty low. Likewise, most people aren’t thinking about marriage customs or local delicacies while they’re being shot at. Casual discussion, explanations, and narrative asides will generally break your stride in a fast paced scene.
Don’t Say Everything
Remembering that it’s okay to hold things back. You don’t need to give every detail of a character’s backstory or of your world’s history. Sometimes less is more. All because you know something doesn’t mean that it needs to appear on the page. Information that you keep to yourself can come across in the way that the world works or in how characters interact with each other without ever being explicitly stated. Holding things back creates subtext.
Have faith that readers will figure things out as they go and will pick up on things that you don’t spell out. Readers are smart. Trust them.