Authorguy's Blog

Down in the Info-Dumps

Posted on: November 26, 2018

Everybody who knows what an info-dump is knows they are horrible things. Mountains of background information and other trivia that the author shoves into the mouths of his characters, or plugs up the narrative flow with, because he’s got so much strange stuff in the story that his audience will be confused without it.

I have written some stories in which a vast amount of info-dumping was necessary, since they were essentially prequels to other stories. So I had to learn a thing or two about handling info-dumps, so that they don’t traumatize me or my readers. Since most of my readers didn’t appear to be traumatized by them, and I wasn’t either, I’d say I did a decent job.

Whether anyone who reads this can have the same success is doubtful, however, because a) I’m not at all sure I have anybody reading this blog anymore, and b) the main ingredient in that success is my writing technique, which is very much character-centered (CC) and character-driven (CD). Most writers do not have techniques that I would describe this way, especially not character-driven ones.

To some extent, it’s a bit unusual to have a character-driven story that needs an info-dump in the first place. A CD story is driven by the characters, what they know, what they want, what they care about. Even the descriptive prose is based on what they perceive in their world, which is not at all what the author might have in mind. As an author I may know all about the causal chain of events that led up to the current situation (I don’t), but as a CD author I would never put that stuff into the mouths of my characters unless they cared about it first. Even if I was to attempt a Star Trek-style briefing room scene (I wouldn’t), the focus would be less on Spock’s global knowledge of the situation they face, and more on Kirk’s desire to get the job done without getting anyone killed, and hopefully not violate the Prime Directive this time.

Info-dumps are essentially the author trying to shove what they know about the story into the story, but I have always been a believer that authors ought to be invisible in their stories. The characters will learn what they want to learn when they want to learn it, in the way they want to learn it. They don’t need or want to know the whole story, just the part of it that’s currently causing trouble for the people and things they care about.

So when it came time to do my stories, I focused on what did one character know, what did the other character care about, and how did they manage this communication. I was not in the slightest concerned with what the plot demanded, although I did indeed have some plot-based concerns. In fact, it was only because I figured out a way to use the info-dump to advance the story that I was able to do it at all.


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