So, I read this book recently where it felt like the entire first chapter, and half the following dialogue, was all infodump . Which, as we...

Discussion Post: InfoDump: How Much Is Too Much ?

So, I read this book recently where it felt like the entire first chapter, and half the following dialogue, was all infodump. Which, as we all know, spells CERTAIN DEATH to the story. :p (not necessarily, but it was pretty hard to get through.) Even though I didn't love it, I get that the author wanted me to understand the stakes of the story, so I could be invested in the characters and actually want to follow them on their journey. I couldn’t enter the story knowing nothing; that would be confusing. But I also couldn’t enter the story knowing EVERYTHING, as well as a bunch of immediately irrelevant things, because that was just as irritating to my editor’s eye.

Anyways, the whole situation just got me thinking: how should authors handle infodump and just how much is too much.


Obviously, particularly in spec-fic, we have to start with something to furnish the world. When you’re dealing with sci-fi, fantasy, dystopian, (even some contemporaries, if they’re not in a boring, US small town or New York), you need a bit of padding information, so the reader understands where they are, what’s going on, and just how much the stakes will affect the character. We have to know these things, otherwise we could get completely lost and throw up our hands in frustration and reread the Tiger’s Curse series for the fifty millionth time.

But then there’s all of those warnings against infodump. Which, as evidenced by the fact that I only scanned the book after the first 100 pages, merit some notice. There is clearly a point where the author has to stop stuffing in info and let the reader’s imagination take the reins, trusting them to follow the character until they get the info they need.

So, where’s the balance?

Personally, I would say there’s no magic rule for this. All we can do is be mindful of what our readers already know. If they know the stuff already—or reasonably should—we shouldn’t spend a page and a half telling them. If they don’t know—we still shouldn’t spend a page and a half telling them; instead, we should talk fast and get back to the story they came for. This way, the reader gets the information they need to understand the story without the boredom that’ll make them trade our books for another.

However, I am aware that I’m not every reader. Some readers enjoy more exposition; some enjoy even less than I do. Which makes me curious: what do you think about infodump (or more accurately, the writer simply handing information over to the reader)? How much is too much, and how do you like to see it handled? Can’t wait to hear from you, and I’ll see you in the comment section!



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16 comments:

  1. I think super long descriptions of places that lasts about four pages is a bit too much if it doesn't fit in with the story or if it's a standalone. I feel that series might be able to pull of long descriptions more since the reader is going to visit the places again. Does that make sense? ._.

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    1. Yeah, it does! Especially with a standalone, because you're only going to spend so long in that world. So if there's 4 pages of description, that description had better really matter. And, in my experience, it can almost always be said shorter and better. :P

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  2. I love it when authors just tie in the details throughout the first few chapters. The quick references to the place or to a certain character that the reader needs to know, the bits thrown into the dialogue. Of course, sometimes we need to know more, but if we don't, I don't want to be info-dumped. :)

    teensliveforjesus.blogspot.com

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    1. :D Same! This is the kind of details and description that I think works best!

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  3. I personally just like when the author slips facts and details in small bits, and strung throughout the story. Long endless paragraphs about things kill me.

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    1. Haha, same. For the most part, unless the writing is really good, I don't remember the long paragraphs anyway. :p

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  4. It's a hard call, but my test is to see how bored I become when I reread something I've written. Yes, I can even bore myself, and when I do, I settle down for some serious deleting and re-writing.

    TMI is as bad or worse than too little. Personally, when I read a book, I prefer to have less and figure out the backstory from what the author gives me. That kind of writing is tricky and takes skill.

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    1. That's a good point! If you're boring yourself, chances aren't good that the reader is engaged. :p

      Definitely agree! And yeah, that kind of writing does take a lot of skill and feedback from others, too, I think. So that you know where you might be going a little too overboard.

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  5. I truly skilled writer can slip in enough information without infodumping.

    storitorigrace.blogspot.com

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    1. True that. I guess that's where the skill comes in, figuring out exactly how much info to slip in.

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  6. I think that sharing only as many details as are relevant seems to be one way to go. It's possible that a writer might choose to even withhold details the readers might want to know! I don't know if I can think of any bookish examples, but I did recently watch a movie called The Lobster, in which we get very little explanation for why things are the way things are. We just know through the main character's lived experiences what the significant details are. It really worked for me!

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    1. Yeah, that's a good point, that sometimes it's even good to withhold information. Give the reader only what they need to know in that moment and no more.

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  7. I think it depends largely on the genre. For most spec-fic novels, I would say up to a five page prologue/intro with some back story is a good limit for a true "dump", then just tie in other details as needed. In one book series I recently read, the author would include a couple paragraphs from a fictional history, diary, or fairy tale from the world of the book at the start of each chapter. It was a nice way to hide little hints or funny anecdotes in the story.

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    1. That's a good point, that spec-fic allows a little more space for dumping. I wasn't thinking of prologues, more paragraphs of description within the actual story, but that's definitely something to consider as well. :)

      Oooh, I like that! That sounds like a fun way to do it.

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  8. I think that the distribution of the information also matters--whether it's all in the first two chapters, or maybe distributed through the story with a few sentences to explain things as they come up, maybe with a bit more explanations in the first few chapters. That's what makes the difference between a 'dump' and a 'explaining what the heck's going on' which is something most readers actually want to know.

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    1. That's a good point. Because there are things the reader actually needs to know, but I guess it depends, like Heather and I were saying, on what is absolutely relevant to that moment. :)

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