This week, we’re talking about info dumps.
What are they? Why do they suck ass? How can you avoid them?
Basically, an info dump happens when an author takes a break from the story to describe everything in the known universe.
From the color of the curtains (blue maybe?) to the person the MC bought them from and why they still have them up even though they don’t match the new carpet. From the rotational period of the world (high fantasy or science fiction) to the shape of the leaves.
Or maybe it’s important for the reader to know every single scar and pimple the MC has to make them relatable.
Now, don’t get me wrong. You can write a lot of detail and do it well.
It isn’t my personal style, at all. I prefer to cut my stories to the bone and see how the blood wicks across the page. I give relevant details for character development, plot development, and world building, but little else. I like my stories punchy.
But you can be detailed and write well.
The problem comes in when you decide to give all the detail…all at once.
That bogs down the story. Even the best plot can only carry so much weight. After so much detail, it gets too heavy and the story just kinda…drags the dead weight of the details behind it until all of its energy is depleted and it just slows to a crawl and eventually falls over dead.
Most readers can only tolerate a certain amount of description lobbed at their face in a single paragraph. Too much, and they get tired of it.
Is your character going to walk into a room in the middle of a gunfight and pause to survey the crown molding, the stain of the table, and the fabric of the couch in the next room (just barely visible through a doorway framed by elaborate, hand-carved original trim)?
Are they going to space out during their true love’s heartfelt confession…to admire the blades of grass beneath their lover’s feet and how it bends in the breeze, the bark on the trees around them mottling sunlight and shadow, and every cloud in the sky (which happen to be shaped like their mother and their first grade teacher?
They’re going to pay attention to the important things going on around them. If you’re in an action scene or a love scene (two of my favorite types of scenes), get the necessary description out of the way relative to the action.
Otherwise, it’ll just slow the scene down. These are scenes that are supposed to have people on the edge of their seat, gripping the book white-knuckle tight.
Not rubbing the bridge of their nose as their eyes cross while rereading the same paragraph for a millionth time because the detail is so convoluted they can’t focus. Or worse, skipping whole paragraphs because it’s useless to the plot.
Obviously, that’s not what you want.
But how can you avoid it?
First of all, give your readers some credit. People are intuitive. They pick up on things.
If your character settles in to watch some tv, you don’t have to tell us that they pick up the remote and press the red power button and watch the screen blink to life. You don’t have to describe what’s on every channel they flip through or the layout of the menu.
If you say that your character turns on the tv and flips through channels searching for something to watch…that’s good enough.
If your MC is sitting down, people will assume they used a remote. Almost all power buttons on remotes are red. If this one isn’t, it probably doesn’t matter, as far as the plot is concerned.
If they’re flipping through channels, clearly what’s on screen isn’t interesting to your MC.
Why would it be interesting to your reader?
Unnecessary details slow the story down for absolutely no reason. Cut a few out, and your story will benefit from it.
Basically, get to the fucking point.
Now, I mentioned describing things relative to the action. This is what separates a good detailed story from a bad detailed story, if you were wondering.
Describe things in relation to the character. Instead of pretending that you can step back from the story to describe the room while your characters just stand there…
Describe things relative to the character.
Why use one paragraph (or, god forbid, an entire page) to describe the decadently framed windows, the early morning sky beyond, and marble floors with rich mineral veins, then another paragraph to say that your character is pacing across the floor (the material of which was all important a moment ago, but now apparently doesn’t matter)?
Instead, maybe show them pacing across marble floors, backlit by the grey dawn streaming in through an extravagantly framed window.
That tells us that they’re restless, but in a fancy place.
Perhaps you’re writing a thriller. Instead of spending page after page describing the way the shadows bend in the night, blending into the evening itself (redundancy), then spending more pages telling us that the person is terrified of getting caught…
Tell us about the floorboards that creak beneath their feet, raising hairs on the back of their neck and churning their stomach. Maybe show us a nervous glance over their shoulder, rendered useless by the cloak of night which has fallen around them.
So, not quite so fancy because creaky wood floors rather than marble, and they’re trying not to get caught.
Still all the detail. Packed with all the feels.
But you’re not slowing your story (or your reader) down.
Maybe you just introduced a character and you’re struggling to avoid stopping to describe every detail about them. Do it in terms of their actions. Are they frustrated? Maybe they ball their hands into fists in their long silky hair, staring at the inky strands that sweep forward over hunched shoulders.
That tells your reader that the character has long black hair, and it’s soft as fuck. It also tells the reader that the MC is fast approaching a breaking point.
My point is, you can throw in a bunch of details and still have a good story. The key is to multitask. Don’t throw all the description in at the same time. You want to punctuate it with actions or speech.
I briefly mentioned another aspect of the multitasking thing in another blog, so I’ll recap it quickly here.
In Salt and Silver (new title coming soon), one of the MCs, Ness, is a demi-demon. That tells the reader a lot of things. It means that there are demons, and they can interact with (i.e. breed with) humans. Since people in that world know demons exist, because they can do it with them, that will affect how they look at the world.
Calling them demons and demi-demons sets up a contrast, implying that there are also gods in that universe and the people probably know they exist. Otherwise, why would the demons be called demons? If the humans didn’t know the gods existed, they would call the demons gods.
Had I made up a name for her race, I would have needed to explain that Ness’ race opposes another race of super powerful immortals and that both races have the ability to interact with the mortal realm.
I then would have needed to explain that the people saw Ness’ race as being bad and the other race as good.
But demi-demon explains all of that in a single word. No need for paragraph after paragraph of exposition. No need to stop the scene to describe the workings of their world.
Something so simple as a single word choice can be used to tell the reader a lot (coming back to that whole giving your readers credit and allowing their intuition to fill in some of the details). That allows you to keep moving forward without slowing the reader down.
Which makes it more likely for them to be sucked into it.
So please, be as descriptive as you do or don’t want to be, but don’t write a bunch of info dumps. You can do better than that, I promise.
Now, to fill you in on what I’ve been up to. I hammered through a lot of editing on Where Darkness Leads this past week. It’s going to take a lot more work, but it’ll get there.
I also put together a book trailer for Soul Bearer (which gave me practice for making one for The Gem of Meruna). I’ll be sharing the Soul Bearer one with you guys on Tuesday. Excited? I freaking am.
And I got a new scene written for The Last Settlers (prequel in the Regonia Chronicles) and brainstormed new story ideas.
But for now, I’ll let you all get back to your own writing journeys, hopefully with a little bit more knowledge to help you along your way.
Come back next week, same time, same place, for more writing advice and adventures. Subscribe if you want notified first when I post blogs, run sales, or hold giveaways. (Hint hint. I do have another book release coming up, maybe there will be a giveaway with extra stuff for email subscribers…)
Keep reading. Keep writing.