4 Questions To Ask To Avoid Info Dumps In Deep Point Of View by Lisa Hall-Wilson - Canada
No one likes reading an info dump, but we writers justify their existence because we’re sure the reader needs all this background information here, right now. Info dumps kill the pace and tension in your story and readers may just put down your book and walk away forever.
What Is An Info Dump?
“An info dump is a very large amount of information, usually backstory, supplied all at once in a narrative.” Backstory is important and vital to any character and story, but the reader doesn’t necessarily need to know all of what you know or have created. As any good introvert knows, people have to earn the trust to be told your entire lifestory, you don’t just verbally vomit on a stranger. It’s rude. *smile*
In an omniscient point of view, the kind of worldbuilding Tolkien used in The Lord Of The Ringsand The Hobbit is acceptable. Omniscient point of view though is largely out of favor with modern readers and acquisition editors.
It’s hard to ground the reader in time and place without frontloading a work with all the ways that world is different from our own world/reality/time/place. Whether you’re writing Steampunk, Space Opera, Edwardian romance, spec fic, etc etc — the key is to avoid large deposits of information and let the world unfold for the reader as the character sees it. If everyone in your story world is green with large antennae, construct an organic scenario that would cause your character to notice it — because we don’t often think/comment on things that seem every day or ordinary.
An Info Dump: Cassandra kept her claws rounded and painted which showed her pride in her appearance. The green-skinned passersby didn’t give her any notice. They kept their long antennae gleaming and straight. Her people were fastidious and prided themselves on their appearances. Not being noticed was a good thing.
Organic Worldbuilding: Cassandra examined the filed ends of her claws. Perfect. Her antennae twitched and she turned to find Steve behind her. His left antennae was bent and hung limp. Sickly splotches of purple marred his green skin. Everyone gave him a wide berth, covering their gills as they passed by. Would she be contaminated by association? She took a step back. “What happened to you? Are you contagious?”
Add Backstory In Phrases
Jami Gold has a great technique (and I’m sure she doesn’t use it exclusively) of adding backstory through phrases. Not paragraphs, not even whole sentences, but in phrases. Check out this excerpt from Jami Gold’s novel Stone-Cold Heart about the first time we meet the hero, a gargoyle named Garrett. (read Jami’s post on info dumps on page 1 here.)
Warmth crept through Garrett’s chest and spread into his limbs. Tingles followed, racing along his nerves, stirring sensations in his body.
For the first time in countless years, he awoke from stone-death. The human female curled between his limbs explained why. She must have focused enough trust toward him to help him regain full consciousness.
About blasted time. Although these circumstances weren’t the situation he wanted to encounter when he awoke. Of all the things he’d seen during his stone-death, he hadn’t seen the one thing he’d expected. None of his regiment had brought a human female he could use to awaken—or had even come by to check on him.
All those years in his vulnerable form, where his prison of stone could have shattered—ending his life. Years without word, without reports from the field, without conversations with his regiment. Years left alone. Abandoned.
Jami has bolded all the phrases that give backstory bits. Readers are drawn into this story world through the eyes of a gargoyle and what he’s concerned with RIGHT NOW. We know he’s just waking up after countless years asleep, that he needs a female to wake him up, he’s been forgotten, and that things aren’t right in his world. That’s all we really need at this point to cheer for Garrett.
An info dump would have seen Garrett reflecting on his past years as a gargoyle before he was turned into stone, perhaps the history of why he’d been abandoned by his gargoyle friends, blah blah blah. These would all be things he already knows but wouldn’t think about without a reason to bring up all that history. Instead, keep the reader rooted in the right now and what would organically come to the character’s mind.
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