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I Hate Info-Dumps

You’ve all thought it, haven’t you? Come on, be honest. You’ve had that heart sinking moment when you are reading a book and a new character appears in the narrative and…

The Thief by capprottiShe crashed through the window. Shards of glass and splinters of wood scattered across the floor of the Dog and Duck Inn. The customers had one chance to look up, to see the shadow of the raven before she landed in their midst, daggers drawn and already seeking the heart of her victim.

Raven was short, barely over five feet and had received her name for the long dark hair that swept around her face. She had affected dark clothes and black cape to go with the name, to heighten the fear she struck into her victims, and there he was.

Not great, but not too bad so far is it? And then…

The Dog and Duck, the location of her mission tonight, was an old establishment having been first opened by Osrig the Old back in the early years of the reign of King Murftel, some three hundred years ago. Osrig had been old, just as his name suggested, and had once been an adventurer. That is how he made his money and how he could afford the Inn. A tall man, over six and half feet during his days of adventure, his back had bowed with age and the only weapon he could wield, upon opening the inn, was his walking stick. The patrons soon learned to fear that stick because though his back was bent, his arms were strong.

The beer was said to be the best in the whole city of Yekstaleford. In fact, people would travel from many leagues just to taste the beer of Osrig the Old. Legends said he stirred it with the scale of dragon he had slain when was an adventurer. This was not true, he had been lucky to escape the encounter with the dragon with only a few scars and burns. The rest of his group had not been so lucky. When Osrig had staggered into the village, the very same that had commissioned the services of his group, it was with tears in his eyes. Helterg the Knight, his oldest friend, had been roasted in his armour. The man’s screams were loud in his ears and memory strong in his mind.

Bahmi Bartender by John-Paul BalmetWoah! Hang on…who is this story about? What’s happening with Raven? Why has she crashed through the window and not come in through the door? Who is her target? Why is she going to kill them?

Osrig? That’s three hundred years ago and do we really need to know all about his adventuring days? I don’t care. I bought the book to learn about Raven not Osrig and hang on…if I skip three pages the author is still waffling on about Osrig’s beer and his adventuring days.

What was that creak and fluttering noise? I’ll tell you, it was the window opening, the book spinning through it and out onto the streets below.

I have had the opportunity to read a lot of books recently. Not just because I enjoy reading, but also because the Amazon ‘look inside’ feature lets you. It is a great way of testing out a book. Reading a few chapters to get the feel of the book, of the writing and of the story, is a nice way to spend some time. You’d do the same in Waterstones or your independent bookshop of choice. Why not use the tools that Amazon gives you to do the same? And with the rise of self-published books it is a nice way to sort out the ones you want to read from those you don’t.

You see an info-dump, you run a mile. They’re boring. They don’t move the story forward. They lack action and they don’t create character. It is a bit like finding a Wikipedia page in the middle of the novel and it’s all about the history of cabbage.

I hate them. I skip them, but then I run the risk of missing out on some information that is important later in the book. “Ah-ha!” you say. “You shouldn’t have skipped it then should you.” Well, yes, but all I needed to know was that Osrig built a trapdoor at the back of the inn. By the time that nugget of information was divulged, I was sleep reading, skimming, looking for the re-start of the story. And… and… if the location of the bloody trapdoor was so bloody important then let me find out through some other way. Hey, perhaps Raven did some research, breaking into a library or interrogating a serving girl/boy before she crashed in.

So, no, I shouldn’t have to read the Osrig’s Wiki page. I don’t care about Osrig…three bloody pages on his history and the scene in the inn will only be a chapter long. Osrig will never ever appear again. I am reading to find things out. I don’t want to be told. I want to discover things as the character does. I want to be there with them.

Tavern Brawl by velinov

She crashed in through the window and then what? Stopped and told everyone to hang on a moment whilst she Googled, or unfurled a scroll – let’s try to maintain some sense of the medieval world we are in – to read all about Osrig. Is that what she did?

Of course she bloody didn’t – so why should we.

Stop info-dumping. You want to convey information? Do it through the characters conversation, their actions, their interactions, the tasks they have performed. You really need to tell us something, do it in a paragraph and then get back to the story. And use those paragraphs sparingly.

I hate info-dumps. I’m sorry, but I do.

Actually, to be honest, I am not sorry.

Title image by capprotti.

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11 Comments

  1. Totally agree!
    It’s the hardest thing as an author to get the essential info about your unique world across without covering the reader in a pile of, er, stuff. But that’s your job.

    Blogposts are the place for detail, background, history and geography.

    I get one or two complaints there isn’t detail about the alternate (history) world I’ve created, but the vast majority of comments say that I give just enough detail to set the story without cluttering it up and make it a real place without stopping the pace of the story.

    And as we know, readers are the rulers of the universe.

  2. Avatar Phil Booth says:

    Haha, true story. Even in the context of the article I gave up around about the walking stick and skipped to the Woah! Hang on…

  3. Avatar Jo says:

    *applauds* Well said! I think people sometimes think they have to include every nugget of information about their world, either because they’re very proud of it or because they’re worried the reader won’t understand what’s going on if they leave it out. It’s almost like they’re underestimating the intelligence of the reader. I always think that if something is important, it should emerge naturally in the plot, rather than, as you said, dumping a Wiki page right in the middle of the action…

  4. Avatar Splicer says:

    You don’t think info dumped through character conversation stands out like a sore thumb? Hmm.

  5. Avatar Steven Poore says:

    Depends on how the conversation is framed. “As you know, Bob,” is telling the reader something by two people talking about things they already know. If one character is learning something they don’t already know, (and it’s relevant to the ongoing plot!) then it’s less of an infodump.

  6. Avatar Kate says:

    Couldn’t agree more. Read one book for review a while ago that felt it necessary to ‘fill the reader in’ on the author’s ability to google. Unfortunately it was less of an info-dump and more of an info-trickle. Every. Other. Friggin. Page.
    Needless to say, it didn’t get many stars.

  7. Avatar ScarletBea says:

    I’m afraid I fall on the “like lots of information” camp, Geoff.
    Ok, maybe not the kind of encyclopedic exaggeration we see sometimes, but I really like to know the history…
    I guess it takes all sorts hehe

    • Avatar G R Matthews says:

      Hi Bea,

      It depends on how information is delivered, I think. If it is done as part of the story, so that it flows naturally form the characters and circumstances then it is world-building.

      If it wrenches me out of the story, takes me down path of wiki/encyclopaedia, then I hate it, I skip it.

      Information can be given in the story, or as a story within a story, just please, for the love of whatever deity people choose to believe in (or not), don’t break up the flow of a story with a great big dump of unrelated information.

      And certainly, certainly, not within the first few pages of the book!

      The article came from reading a lot of novels, very quickly, the first three to five chapters, for some reason or other – I just hit way too many brick walls of info-dumping which killed the story, the excitement, the discovery of a new world.

      But different tastes, folks liking different things, it what makes books (and reading) such a fantastic thing…

      oh, and I happen to know you have particulary good taste 😉

  8. Avatar Adriano says:

    I think it depends on the writer. I have seen lots of stories where the author decides to build an entire chapter in a point of view of a character who is is not playing out in the story just to tell an action of a main character from a different perspective. I find that great. But I’ve got what you meant.

  9. […] don’t mind gritty, but balance it with humour. And most important, don’t you dare have an info-dump. I’ve been frustrated with many a traditionally published book for […]

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