Paula looks at how to avoid information dumps.
point, we all have to get information across to the reader. Dropping our
readers into the middle of our characters’ worlds may leave them confused about
what has happened in the past, so we need to find some way to convey the
necessary details. However, telling too much at once is considered an “information dump.” It slows down the action and interrupts the forward movement of the plot.
What NOT to do:
Don’t put a
huge ‘flashback’ in the first chapter. In fact, avoid lengthy flashbacks if
Don’t have a
character telling his or her story to another character as if they are making a
speech entitled ‘My Life’ or ‘What Happened To Me Last Summer’.
a character telling another something they already know – and don’t ever have
one character saying, ‘As you know, Jim, Jane is our sister’ (or similar)
overload the reader with a lot of unnecessary detail about a past event.
What you CAN do:
You can bring in
information as dialog between characters, as long as this does not sound
contrived or obvious, and as long as two characters meeting for the first time don’t
proceed to tell each other all about their past lives. People in ‘real life’
don’t (usually!) do this.
You can introduce
the backstory in small doses. This technique can hook the reader, who then
wants to know more about what happened. I admit I do tend to use this technique
fairly frequently! In my current WIP, I have used the action of the heroine
fastening her knee brace which reminds her of her accident nearly a year ago,
but at this point that is all the reader knows. Later they will find out what
kind of accident, and how it has affected her.
You can use
memories to allow a character to recall, either internally or in dialogue, a
past event. Ideally there will be a natural trigger for these memories, probably
based on one of the senses – hearing a song on the radio, the smell of bread
baking, finding a treasured object, etc.
speaking, it’s important only to include the information the reader really
needs to know, and to weave it seamlessly into the story of the present (and
not ‘dumped’), so that the reader isn’t jerked back and forth between past and
present, or taken back in time when he/she wants to know what happens now and
in the future.
What other techniques have you used to avoid 'information' dumps?