Cleaning Up the Info Dump: Show, Don’t Tell

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Not much can make your story seem more directed at grade-school children than the info dump. You’ve seen it before—you’ve probably done it before. It’s the long string of facts and backstory you wrote to set up a world, a scene, a relationship, etc. Here’s an example:

Lane pulled out his cyberblade. The cyberblade gleamed red because of the cybercrystals that gave it its power. He was issued the weapon in the academy he went to when he was younger—one of the many academies that popped up after the world discovered cyberwarfare. Kids started going to these academies so the next generation would know what they were walking into when they grew up and were forced to serve in the cyberarmy as cybersoldiers.

And so force and so on. This cyberpassage started off with a little action, and then stopped the narrative completely to give background information about the world and its situation. This is a tell-tale sign of an info dump. Another sign is it’s boring to read.

Go through your novel or short story and find any passage that looks like an info dump. Try to think of ways you can still present that information, without stopping your story to barrage your reader with strings of information. Try one of these:

The Classic—Show, Don’t Tell

Look for ways to incorporate that info dump information throughout the story instead of force-feeding it all at once. In the above example, maybe we could have Lane meet a fellow student from the academy later on. Or, we could discover the state of the world little by little through hinting bits of dialogue.

The idea is to give the readers the information you would have given them via the info dump through more plot-friendly means. I can’t stress enough how the info dump stops prose like it’s braking hard on the freeway.

If you’re excited about the world you’re creating and want to give as much detail about it to your readers, treat them as guests to your world. Show them around, introduce them to your characters. Don’t stand in the doorway and tell them about everything that’s happening inside when they can explore it themselves.

On the other hand…

The Nihilist—Delete It

You may not like this one, but more often than not, it’s the most powerful tactic for info dumps: destroy it.

Think about how important that particular piece of info dump is to your story and ask yourself—does the reader really need it? If you’re not sure, delete it. If the information is important enough, you can show the readers in a different way later. Or not! Leave it up to the reader’s imagination, or make them infer information from the clues you give them outside the info dump.

If you’re worried about how much more work this will create for you—especially if you have already completed the novel, don’t be. Novels are tiring, hard work and editing your novel is going to take up much of the time you spend perfecting it. You will thank yourself once your prose is clean, info dump-free and more entertaining for your readers.

Keep working and never stop writing!

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About Author

John Paul Schmidt is a former news journalist. Now he's a freelancer by day and bartender by night while he works on his novel.


    • An infodump is typically a point in the story itself where the writer feels the need to stop everything to explain how something in the story works. If the information is plot relevant, you can call it an exposition dump.

      For example in the Harry Potter novels, these info dumps were often provided by Hermione – somewhat justified because she was a very studious person who could be expected to recite large chunks of information to the other characters.

      Of course, it does happen that authors dump information in the description (especially in fanfiction, and published authors sometimes does this in interviews or similar “behind the scenes” venues), however these info dumps are called “Word of God” if the info does not appear within the written work itself, and many readers will disregard Word of God as non-canon when discussing a peice of fiction.

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