Wednesday, March 2, 2016

I is for Information Dumps

Paula looks at how to avoid information dumps.

At some 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 possible.

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’.

Don’t have 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)

Don’t 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.

Generally 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?


  1. Spelled out succinctly, Paula. Still, it's takes me trial and error to do.

    1. It's something I have to watch out for, too, as I'm often tempted to include too much!

  2. Interesting blog, Paula. I rarely put too much information in, at least I don't think I do, but I can see that it's something that needs to be carefully considered. It's so easy to get carried away.

    1. I sometimes have to be strict with myself, but I think (hope!) I'm getting better.

  3. I like using conversations with other characters as my primary way of disclosing information. I agree, too, that the dialogue has to sound natural and not like a 'this is your life' kind of soliloquy.

    Little hints along the way are the perfect way to give backstory AND hook the reader.

    1. I agree, Deb. It seems to be the way it works best :-)

  4. I try to take all the backstory and distribute it judiciously. Doesn't always work though.