By Paul Goat Allen
It’s one of the most frequent criticisms of our BlueInk reviewers—and has been for years—but writers just don’t seem to grasp how detrimental these unwieldy chunks of information are to the reading experience. Yeah, I understand that inserting info dumps into your narrative is a quick and easy way to convey any number of narrative aspects—world-building, backstory, etc. But trust me when I say that the negatives greatly outweigh any perceived positives.
Here are two very good reasons why you should avoid the info dump trap at all costs:
1. It absolutely kills readability.
Looking for a way to slow the narrative momentum down to a snail’s pace? Insert long chunks of exposition into your story! Want to destroy any sense of tension that you’ve created through plot and character development? Use info dumps! Want to bore your readers to death? Yes! More info dumps!
Successful writers understand the importance of the reading experience. It should be a primary focus. And that reading experience should ultimately lead to literary escapism—the glorious sense that readers get when they lose themselves in a story.
As a writer, you want to put your readers IN the story, right? Info dumps do the exact opposite. So how do you fix it? There’s a writing rule that many of us learned in elementary school—show, don’t tell. It’s that simple.
Here’s a great example. I recently reviewed a fantasy where the author used rambling info dumps to meticulously describe a city’s storied history and current state of magnificence (and much of this information was unnecessary). These dumps didn’t fit organically in with the flow of the narrative and took me completely out of the story. Instead of telling the reader about this city, the author could’ve easily showed the reader in an organic way when the characters were approaching and traveling through the city.
Picture an info dump being a massive loaf of bread. It’s impossible to consume because of its bulk—but if you slice that loaf into bite-size pieces and fit them organically into the narrative, you convey all of that information in a much more palatable way that does not hinder readability.
Bottom line: immersion (keeping your readers immersed in the story) needs to be a focus, and if anything—like info dumps!—negatively impacts that immersion, those sequences need to be removed or revised.
2. It identifies you as a beginning, or just plain lazy, writer.
I realize that may sound harsh, but it’s the truth. Info dumping, like I mentioned earlier, is an easy way to insert exposition into a story. But just because something is easy doesn’t necessarily make it the right thing to do. Info dumps equate to bad writing—just like an author who uses conspicuous word repetition or has a penchant to overuse color descriptors (“She crossed the blue stream and entered the green forest.”). These are obvious flaws that should’ve been addressed long before any novel makes it to publication.
Bottom line: If you have aspirations of finding some level of commercial success as a writer, you need to understand that whatever work has your name on it has to be as well-written, and professional, as possible. If readers are underwhelmed by a literary offering—put off by obvious writing blunders like info dumps—you’re going to have a difficult time finding and keeping an audience. If you want to impress your readers with your writing, you need to keep the info dumps to a bare minimum.
It’s all about the reading experience. The information in the info dumps isn’t the problem, it’s the way in which you’re conveying that information.
Paul Goat Allen has been reviewing books for more than 25 years. In addition to BlueInk Review, his work has appeared with BarnesandNoble.com, The Chicago Tribune, Publishers Weekly, Kirkus, and more. He also teaches in Seton Hill University’s Writing Popular Fiction graduate writing program.