Avoiding the Info Dump

The character arc demands that a writer supply the character’s motivation to the reader. One of the easiest, and most insidious ways to accomplish this is with ye olde info dump.
Writing Tip for Today: What is an info dump and how can you avoid it?

  • Take a Tip from Secret Agents. Agents in spy movies only give info on a need-to-know basis. You may write a lot of back story or other descriptions of your character’s life in order to know this stuff as the creator of the work. But remember, your readers are not you and they only need the smallest of explanations to buy into a story. Most readers will forgo lengthy explanations (RUE*, right?) in exchange for scenic action. Go ahead and write that stuff–but don’t leave it clumped together in the work itself.
  • Use Beats, Not Clumping. While we’re on the subject, look for chunks or clumps (your choice) of descriptions, back stories or other explanations that are a paragraph long or more. You’ll hear me talk a lot about weaving –that is, breaking up the chunks and inserting sentences of same into and around the dialogue and action. I like to call these sentences “beats.” If you practice arranging beats around spoken parts or action, you’ll find you need far fewer attributions such as “he said.” Plus you’ll convey the inner life of the character in small doses.
  • When in Doubt, Leave it Out. If you are unsure if readers need-to-know a detail or back story, it’s almost always best to leave it out. The details are for you to know–much like a marionette’s master, manipulating strings that the audience doesn’t see. I know, I know. You researched and found out all sorts of interesting factoids. But trust me, readers want story, not a history lesson or a sermon. Use the Rule of Three** to gauge how much is too much.

*RUE Resist the Urge to Explain.
**Rule of Three  If you add more than 3 sentences of dialogue, back story or description, consider switching to a different speaker, or from narrative to action.

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About Linda S. Clare

I'm an author, speaker, writing coach and mentor. I teach both fiction and nonfiction writing at Lane Community College and in the doctoral program as expert writing advisor for George Fox University. I love helping writers improve their craft and I'm both an avid reader and writer of stories about those with wounded hearts.

11 comments on “Avoiding the Info Dump

  1. Pingback: Quick Fix: Dialogue Dos and Don’ts | Linda S. Clare

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