I worked on a neat little infographic for the better part of an hour, thinking I’d make this post pretty and succinct. Then I messed up the layout, got frustrated, and rolled with an entirely different blog post altogether.
If you’ve been around the fiction-workshopping block a time or two million, you’ve heard of infodumping. For those of you who haven’t, think, “A long time ago in a galaxy far, far away…”
Yes, even masterpieces have infodumps.
That famous scrolling text is, though iconic, a dump of information told to the viewer to prepare them for scenes ahead. It’s backstory, context. Exposition. But it’s not action. Hell, you can’t even see any characters, yet.
And hear me out: I am not dissing Star Wars. I’m glad for the infodump. I’m just saying –it’s an infodump.
As a general rule, it’s better to expose little bits of backstory at a time rather than giving the reader a huge block of text to sift through just so he/she can fathom what’s to come. But, like any other general rule, you can break it. Oi, oi, oi!
Mini-Sample-Infodump: Angela’s mom and Bob’s dad used to date, but broke up years ago. Bob moved with his mom halfway across the country, but has recently come to visit his dad and saw Angela in the mall. They did some catching up.
In this method, the author could go on for paragraph after paragraph talking about where they went to college, who they dated, where they applied for work afterward, etc. It’s often boring to read.
Some people try to avoid that kind of infodumping by doing something like this:
Angela leaned against the railing. “Wow, Bob, it’s been years since our parents broke up and you moved away.”
Angela is stating something she and Bob already know for the benefit of the audience. A better method would be:
Bob tried not to stare. She’d changed so much since the last time he’d seen her.
“How’s your dad?” Angela asked, interrupting his thoughts.
“He’s great,” Bob said. He didn’t tell her his dad had been talking about her mom just yesterday.
It gives the reader a little insight without taking away from the flow of the story.
Of course, you can’t always provide information in this way. If you’re writing a fantasy story with new races and customs and locations of your own creation, you’ll more than likely have an infodump or nine hundred thousand. The trick is to keep them short and sweet, and try not to make it a chore for the reader to plod through them, much like that wall of text scrolling through space.