Tuesday, January 7, 2014


It's been done in the Hobbit, it's been done in Robinson Crusoe.  But those were books written decades - even centuries in the latter case - ago.  Both of them infodumped from the start.  Both of them are wildly popular.  But now things have changed.  Infodumping now is a curse.

The patience of readers (and writers) alike has dwindled considerably just in the last fifty years, and therefore the art has changed.  New genres have arisen - just think of thrillers - that would hardly be possible if they were not so fast paced.

Every sentence of a novel must matter in some way, but novels in general must be faster.  I enjoy a longer novel once in a while, but it bores the soul out of you eventually.

And so there is at least one inevitable truth in writing:  You must keep up the pace.

Especially in the first chapter, something meaningful has to happen.  Okay, so maybe you've done that.  And this is where a lot of new writers really scuttle themselves.  Let's look at it from an outline perspective.

-MC's village burned down by raiders.  Family killed.  Inciting Incident.
-MC's backstory told about him being a prince/magician.

Not only is that horribly cliche, it's infodumping.  The process of stopping everything else in the story and telling a block of info - whatever this info may be.  Whether it be about the world in which the characters live in (most commonly for Speculative Fiction), about a particular character, or general backstory, what specifies infodumping is that plot, character development, and all else is halted for this information to be given.

This is always, always bad.

And it doesn't just have to be at the beginning.  Infodumps are bad everywhere.  I caught myself in one of my own novels nearly infodumping the backstories of two new characters.  Thankfully, I was still in the outlining stages and it was easy to refocus that scene.

But besides backstory, character, or world infodumps, there are a few more . . .

The: "As You Know" infodumps.

Just as in narration, infodumps can easily be used in dialogue.  But its still just as bad - it stops everything else to explain.  To tell, not to show).  And therefore, they must be done away.  The most common of these dialogue infodumps is the "As You Know" loophole.  There's a no-brained insensibility to have one character explain to the other character what they both already know (and they know the others know) just for the benefit of the reader.

Of course, there's even a loophole around that.  To bring in a character who doesn't know the As You Know (whatever subject it is), and so it makes sense.

But it's lazy.  The reader might get the point, but as writers, we're not just supposed to get the message through, we're supposed to do it in a unique and intriguing way.

Give little hints every few pages and let the reader find out the information for him- or her- self.  This brings the reader's mind into the book.  And once in the book, it's not easy to get out.

Getting rid of infodumps therefore not only keeps the pace of the story steady, it lets the reader engage himself into the story.

Robert T.


  1. Good thoughts. :) I tried to start a novel just recently, and it BEGAN with huge paragraphs of info dumps about the MC's grandchildren. Totally turned me off. That sort of backstory could have been given through the dialogue--once we were really far into the book, and the reader wasn't going anywhere.

    1. Ack. That's too true. But it's good you noticed it before getting too far in.


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