How to do info-dumping without losing your readers

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At a few different points in your novel, you'll need to reveal information that is important for the plot to work. It might be back story about a character. It might be technical information about a piece of machinery which is important to know. It might be a detail about the way your fantasy world works.

Whatever it is, you're gonna have to dump some info on your reader. And just like in the real world, dumping needs to be done right.

Let's be straight-up. Readers don't like it when they get info-dumped on. Best-case scenario: they feel slightly bored and interrupted, because they want to get on with the story. Worst-case scenario: they feel resentful and used.

So here are our rules for info-dumping. Follow these and your readers won't give up and close their books or turn off their e-readers.

Show us

1. It's much better to show some action than to tell some background. Think of your book as a movie. What we see on the screen is all the explanation we get, with the exception of the occasional voiceover in some films. If you're a main character in a YA novel who's explaining that her parents are both eccentric scientists, then we need to see some of that eccentricity so we understand better.

Less is more

2. Only reveal what you have to reveal. If you have to explain the social mores of your gnome characters who live under the ground in the forest, tell us the particular rules that will help explain why our main character gnome is sniffing his friend's hair (for example.) Don't tell us all the other rules about arm sniffing and knee knocking and quadruple cheek kissing. Also, probably don't tell us, here, about their little, dirt filled houses. Don't tell us about their propensity to indulge in long games of Scrabble on a winter's night. Only reveal what's relevant right now, to help explain what's going to happen. 

Let them figure it out

3. You don't have to spell out everything. Dropping hints is better. It makes the reader feel involved: there's a puzzle to solve, and stuff to nut out. Readers love that. We'd rather discover it for ourselves than have it shovelled into our laps.

Stay close

4. Stay really close to the character. If your protagonist is facing a choice and we need to understand all the implications of that choice, a good way is to let us into his thought processes, weighing up the pros and cons. But make sure that they really are your character's thoughts, in your character's voice, with your character's reactions, and your character's foibles, and your character's body language. Ask: would he think this way? Would he express it like this? And would he really 'recall' and 'remember' so much helpful information as he goes through his actions in the first few chapters? Who does that much recalling or remembering?

Dialogue... make it real

5. If you must put it in dialogue, pleeeeeeease make it sound realistic. (see this post on dialogue). 

 

 
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