Going down rabbit holes while researching for your writing is something that often happens. But not every gem of information you discover should be included in your book. More often than not, writers get carried away by fascinating — and yet completely irrelevant — details: backstories that will have no consequence to the plot, historical tidbits, random thought processes, etc.
As fascinating as they are to the writer, readers don’t usually like being bombarded with so much unnecessary information. When you read a book, you want events to flow smoothly, and not be stuck reading paragraphs upon paragraphs on how the mythical world came to be — unless, of course, you’re an avid Lord of the Rings fan, and you’re obsessed with The Silmarillion.
Here’s how you can avoid info-dumping while writing, and keep the focus of your readers.
1. Ask Yourself: Is it Relevant to the Plot?
If you can’t recognise an info dump, you can’t fix it. When you reread your draft and come across lengthy passages, pause and contemplate: is this really necessary for my story? Would it make a dent in my novel if I cut it off? Will my readers be lost if I didn’t include it?
And if you’re answer is no, no and no, then it’s definitely an info dump. At this point, you’re including it for yourself, not your readers. You will often see info dumps at the beginning of anything that you write — beginning of the book, beginning of a chapter, of a character introduction, or even at the beginning of a dialogue. It’s when you start building your story that you also start building info dumps.
While interesting facts about your imaginary world would intrigue your readers, even if there is no direct relevance to the storyline, make sure you keep them to a minimum, and phrase them in a way that keeps your readers’ attention!
2. Beware of Dialogues and Monologues
Some writers think it’s okay to have one character talk, or even be lost in thought, for an entire afternoon, relating their version of events or describing someone else. Before you think it’s okay to include that (because, after all, people like that do exist in real life), pause to consider if anybody would actually be listening to them for an entire afternoon. If your answer is an obvious no, then you know what to do!
3. Send the Info Dumps Elsewhere in the Story
Include as much information as you like in your first draft, because that’s when you need to get everything out of your system before you forget them (you can also keep separate notes for that, if you don’t want your first draft to be cluttered). But your second draft is when you fix things. You read through everything you’ve written, and make the painful decision to either keep certain things, or remove them.
If you think some info dumps are necessary for the reader to properly understand how your novel’s world works, but those info dumps are also super boring, break them into sections and integrate them cleverly into several scenes. That way, you’re feeding the reader little by little, still giving them all the information you need while keeping their attention on the story.
4. Add Tension or Humor
Another way you can avoid cutting off info dumps completely from your book is by adding a touch of tension or humor into it. If it’s your main character reliving his memories (which would perhaps be necessary for readers to empathize with him), break off his thought process just when something exciting was about to happen — maybe by having another character make conversation or something similar. That creates suspense and tension, and doesn’t qualify as info dumping.
On the other hand, humor works wonders as well. Just remember to blend it in with the current scene.
Sharika Hafeez is a nerd, and she’s proud of it. Growing up, she fell in love with books and writing, and is currently following her undergraduate degree (for some mysterious reasons) in Physics. She likes procrastinating by watching the stars with a steaming cup of tea, composing poetry in her head.