1. char99bok
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    char99bok New Member

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    What exactly is an "info dump"?

    Discussion in 'General Writing' started by char99bok, Jun 29, 2009.

    After some time lurking, I've finally decided to post.

    I've seen people refer to "info dumps". I've googled this, tried to figure out what exactly it is, but I just can't understand. Could someone please simply explain what an info dump is?

    For example, in my novel, I'm writing 3rd person omniscient. Sometimes, in response to what someone says or in order to explain something better, I'll spend a few paragraphs doing a short history/explanation of character. I did it when explaining why a CEO wanted to undergo a certain project and also why a certain animal geneticist was shamed by the public. These are things that would not fit in normal dialogue, but are important (in my opinion) for the reader to know, because they give background information.

    So am I committed an info dump here? Should I try and weave it into dialogue? I just have no idea if I'm guilty of a dreaded "info dump" or not.

    Thanks!
     
  2. cybrxkhan
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    cybrxkhan Contributing Member

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    Info dumping is basically giving the reader information just for the sake of giving the reader information. With a trained eye, it's usually pretty easy to spot - just a bunch of facts thrown out simply because.

    Here's a quick and bad example:

    John walked up to his wife, Mary. Mary was a tall, beautiful woman. She was born in New York City in the 1980s, somewhere around the Bronx, although she never specified specifically whenever John asked. She was half-German and half-Italian, and from her father's side, she also had a little bit of Russian and English blood. Mary had a happy childhood, with three sisters and two brothers, all older than her. They cared for her very much, and always protected her from her abusive parents, who were eventually arrested and put in jail. Her oldest brother George soon became her guardian. She met John a few years back, and was enthralled by his charming behavior. They married in Los Angeles, where they first met, but that's when the trouble started. John was just as abusive as her parents were, and he never thought about her needs. Lately, Mary was thinking of running away, but it was too late.

    John said a quiet "Hello, Mary", as he took out a gun.

    ---

    Basically, everything in italics is an infodump. I'm pretty sure you got bored after the second sentence. As you can see, in this example, there is a bunch of backstory and facts interjected randomly and insensitively into the story, and it really just screws up the flow of the story, and it kind of makes the ending twist/suspense ("John took out his gun") not as effective.

    Infodumping is bad when in narrative, but it's even worse when it's in dialogue. Imagine if some character had said the above excerpt flat-out without any breaks!

    When a reader has to know something (and many times they don't, actually, you can put subtext and subtle hints), then make sure you make it quick, to the point. Dialogue is a good way to do it, but make sure it's quick and realistic enough.

    The point here is that infodumping is exactly what it means - dumping a bunch of information on the reader.

    Hope that helps abit.
     
  3. arron89
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    arron89 Banned

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    It sounds like you've got the right idea - an "info dump" is a derogatory term for any passage of writing that "tells" the reader too much information, particularly information that is either unnecessary or could be better related in dialogue, or through interaction between characters, or some other way.
    Exposition is a crucial element of story telling - it is virtually impossible to totally avoid it in writing. Sometimes there are things that you as an author need to explain more fully, and sometimes the only way to do it is with exposition. This is not an info dump.
    It sounds like the examples you've described would fit into this second category and would be fine to include in your novel, but be aware that too much expository writing may irk some readers.
    My advice would simply be to try and read your own work objectively, asking yourself: Is this information really necessary? What does it add to the reader's understanding of X? Is there a better way I could reveal this information? (Note that dialogue is not always a better way to reveal information)
     
  4. thirdwind
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    thirdwind Contributing Member Contest Administrator Reviewer Contributor

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    This thread has some useful information.
     
  5. char99bok
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    char99bok New Member

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    Well, at least I understand what an info dump is now. Thank you for the help, everyone!

    I guess the hard part is whether or not I'm committing an info dump here. I do have exposition in my book. It's genre is a techno-thriller, and to be honest, there are just some parts that I feel I NEED to dump on the reader so they understand, or otherwise they'd be sitting there thinking, "What the heck is going on?"

    But now I'm wondering if I'm giving too much away. Michael Crichton is one of my favorite authors, and he kind of inspired me to write this. He gives a lot of information intertwined with his plot, and I've adopted the same style. Is anyone familiar with Crichton? Does he info dump? Maybe he could get away with it, but I don't think a newbie writer could. If he's guilty, I probably am too.
     
  6. J_F
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    J_F Member

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    Maybe if you post a segment of your novel which you suspect might be an info dump in the novel forum, we can verify your suspicion. The difference between an info-dump and well done exposition, as I see it, is that the latter is woven in more subtly and in a relevant context, while the former is just dropped into the story randomly.

    I recently read Minority Report by Philip K. Dick (which I really should have read earlier) and he wove in the exposition extremely well. It didn't feel dropped in, and at the same time fully informed the reader of all the relevant background information. And that's a story that relied heavily on exposition. A classic info-dump is the chapter in Moby Dick where Melville rambles about different types of whales. Although the information later on proves to be relevant to the plot, it's basically just a wad of tedious exposition (although Melville is usually excused for it because of his utterly superb writing, and the time in which he wrote it in was more forgiving of that).
     
  7. Cogito
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    Cogito Former Mod, Retired Supporter Contributor

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    From what you describe, you ARE committing an info dump.

    Resist the urge to explain. Resist the urge to feed the reader background information. And don't wrap it up in a neat package of dialogue either.

    Make the reader drag it out of you, one measly tidbit at a time. The reader will be curious - tease that curiosity, and make the reader keep reading to find answers.

    You WANT the reader to have unanswered questions, the more the better.
     
  8. char99bok
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    char99bok New Member

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    I think I might have committed one a few times. Here is a segment where I think I might have info dumped. Please, everyone, let me know what you think. NOTE that this is my first, unedited draft, so it might be a little sloppy/grammatically incorrect.

    "Have you run the experiment? What are the results?" Joachim Tarasov stood impatiently, his arms crossed, his mouth frowning. He was a well-built man, about forty years old, with a thick mustache and a trademark scowl. Born in Kaliningrad, Russia, he spoke with a thick accent, one that almost intimidated his peers and colleagues.

    "Come see for yourself," a short, black-haired man answered. His name was Dr. Frank Brown, and he was one of the most brilliant animal geneticists in the world. He was also known for being a strict environmentalist and a fervent animal activist twice arrested for violent behavior.

    Brown led Tarasov down a long, white hallway. The air was crisp, clean, and sterile. They were inside one of the labs of Animico, a secretive non-profit organization dedicated to supposedly "improving the treatment of animals and protecting the rights of non-human species who cannot speak for themselves". Many argued that although Animico's goals were noble and valiant, their radical approach to problems was problematic.

    Animico first entered the international spotlight five years ago. Along the coast of Florida, more and more dolphins were beginning to become caught in fishing nets and ended up drowning. Animico sent a warning to the fisherman, demanding that the stop the practice to save the dolphins. After the net fishing and dolphin strangling did not cease, four Animico employees were caught setting seven fishing boats on fire, destroying thousands of dollars in property. However, prosecutors were unable to prove that the men had performed the task on Animico's orders, and Animico insisted that the men did the deed on their own time. Although the four men were convicted and sentenced jail time, Animico was not charged in the order.

    Two years later, Animico led a well-publicized charge against a fast food fried chicken chain, J.R. Clucker's. Animico claimed that J.R. Clucker's was not only keeping their chickens in inhumane conditions, but it was also feeding them experimental protein in order to gain a more sufficient meat yield. J.R. Clucker's insisted that Animico's claims were completely untrue and that they would not be changing any of their policies. Much like the situation with the fisherman two years earlier, three J.R. Clucker's chains were destroyed by a variety of Animico employees. Again, no direct connection to Animico could be proven, so charges against the organization were not filed.

    Though Animico did not find itself under fire legally, it soon became a shamed organization. There was an outcry from columnists, bloggers, and TV correspondents from all over. Animico was called "a promoter of arson and destruction", and one journalist callously blogged, "The people at Animico...from the executives to the volunteers are just plain sick. They destroy human hard work and ambition for the sake of animals they really don't care about...They do it all for attention, to cause a scene. I hope they burn like everything they torched."

    Now viewed as a public menace, Animico grew increasingly secretive, not publicly releasing any press releases or statements, and instead doing mostly under the radar work. In fact, many Americans had completely forgotten about the radical organization that had previously dominated the headlines. And even though Animico was no longer in the media limelight, it was still diligently tackling large-scale projects, like the one Joachim Tarasov was in charge of.

    Brown pointed to a doorway labeled "LAB 402". He opened the door for Tarasov, who nodded slightly as he went into the laboratory.
     
  9. Banzai
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    Banzai One-time Mod, but on the road to recovery Contributor

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    Yes, that's an info dump.
     
  10. Show
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    I do admit I am probably bad with info dump. lol It's worse I guess in the opening chapters than later.

    Although info trickling is more what I'd call it. lol Not dumping really, just a bit here, and a bit there, and I do try to keep it at least relevant and not some random "She enjoyed lacrosse in High School" when introducing the character.
     
  11. Cogito
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    Cogito Former Mod, Retired Supporter Contributor

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    That's a full blown info landfill.
     
  12. Cogito
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    Cogito Former Mod, Retired Supporter Contributor

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    Please refrain from detailed critiquing in this thread. The excerpt was allowed here, but only for the purpose of answering the poster's question.

    All material for critique must be posted in the Review Room after meeting the critiquing requirements.
     
  13. bluebell80
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    bluebell80 Contributing Member

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    Sorry Cog, just thought it would help him more to see what he is doing and how it could be done differently. I tend to go over board sometimes.
     
  14. Cogito
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    Cogito Former Mod, Retired Supporter Contributor

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    I know, and I hated to delete it. But if we bend the rule, we end up with a flood of people posting for critique all over the place to circumvent the requirements.
     
  15. bluebell80
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    bluebell80 Contributing Member

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    I copied it and emailed it directly to him. Figured I wouldn't waste a critique. :) It's ok. I forgot and got going on it after I got started. I won't do that again on the main board. It's no problem. Rules are there to keep people from doing silly things.
     
  16. char99bok
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    char99bok New Member

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    Thank you for the comments, everyone! Especially your critiques, bluebell. I guess since it's my first draft, I can kind of get away with info dumps. Hehe. I'm still learning about the characters/the corporations/etc. in my book, so I have to put that info in somewhere. I'll cut and paste all of the info "landfills" into a new document and try to use it more as a reference.
     
  17. mammamaia
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    mammamaia nit-picker-in-chief Contributor

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    not a good way to look at it, imo... that would be allowing a very bad habit to gain a foothold in your mind that will be hard to shake... you should develop only the best habits from the very first, if you want to be a successful writer...
     
  18. bluebell80
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    bluebell80 Contributing Member

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    Char99,

    Your welcome, and I do agree with mommamaia. You don't want to let bad habits slip in there, because the more you do it, the more of a rut it builds in your mind and the harder it is to break yourself of it later.

    I've got some very bad habits with dialog as with when to put a comma and when to put a period. I always have to go back and edit it the correct way. I could also be much more organized with my writing too. But the bad habits formed during college and stuck with me.

    I've had to break myself of the info dump habit too. I find after I write a paragraph of a story, I have to ask myself how relevant the information is to the story and does the reader need it right now. If I find it to be more of an info dump, I break it down to it's simplest form and then save the original copy of the paragraph in a dump doc...where I have information I need, but need to find ways to include what the story needs.

    I also tend to have issues with my character descriptions. Like my MC will be a blond in one scene then three chapters later she's a brunette. Things like that.

    If you find you're writing a lot of back story, it is possible that you started the action too late in the story and you could start a little earlier. Or you could just be having such brilliant ideas about the back story that you feel you just really need the reader to know, because it's cool. But in reading the story the information is an overkill and not stuff the reader really needs to know for the sake of it being cool.

    Important plot points need to be told, like you had about the law suits and the work that the industry you are writing about is doing. But those can be worked into the story in more creative ways than info dumps.

    I always ask myself two questions while I am writing: Does the reader need to know this? And Does this information move the story along? There is also a third question of: IS the the most creative way I can get this information across?

    Generally I work in first person pov. So I am always right in my character's head, and so is my reader. I am always working with just what the character knows and would share in their re-telling of their story. As if I was writing an autobiography of this character, but in a fictionalized version.

    For me tp pov is a re-telling of the events by a person who can magically see inside each of the character's heads and relay that information to the reader. I just don't like writing this way. I never feel as connected to the characters when I read writing in the tp pov.
     
  19. Cogito
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    Cogito Former Mod, Retired Supporter Contributor

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    Listen to your mamma(maia), she speaks wisely!
     
  20. KP Williams
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    KP Williams Contributing Member

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    I have a related question. What if, no matter how hard you try, you simply cannot avoid an infodump? In my story, I have some info that absolutely has to get to the reader, yet I can think of no way to sprinkle it in throughout the story. Pretty much, a plot twist happens, and suddenly the main character is in grave danger from otherworldly beings he never knew existed. It's kind of complicated, but there's plenty of stuff that he needs to know (it's the central element to the story, and if he doesn't know, the reader doesn't know, making the entire story pointless), and there's simply not enough room in the story to spread it all out. Not without completely changing the story.

    I predict that someone wants to tell me to trim it up, get rid of everything that doesn't absolutely have to get out. I've already done that. It's still a fairly large infodump.
     
  21. Cogito
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    Cogito Former Mod, Retired Supporter Contributor

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    I think as long as you have an infodump, your story will not succeed. Maybe it needs to be rewritten from a completely different perspective. Or perhaps you need more story in order to discover the foundations of the peril your character is in.
     
  22. arron89
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    arron89 Banned

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    If you're sure there's absolutely no way around it, just trim it as much as you can, and make sure that its extremely well written...besides that, you could maybe speed up the pace of your writing to trick the reader into thinking its shorter than it actually is, or at least to speed them through it before they have time to complain (but then you risk them not processing all the new info).
    I dunno, personally, I don't think I'm as averse to "info dumps" as some people here, but they're only good if they're well written...
     
  23. char99bok
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    char99bok New Member

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    Sounds like mammamaia knows what she's talking about. ;) Thank you for the advice. I trimmed the info dumps and even went through my story taking out unnecessary things like age, hair color, etc. Then I added subtle things and hints. The passage I posted before is now completely different, and much better imo, because I can drag it out a little longer and build the suspense.

    Which I should have been doing all along, I suppose. It wouldn't have been a good techno-thriller otherwise. But thanks again, everyone! I'm glad I posted here, everyone is so helpful!

    FMK: I'd love to help, but a) as you can see, I'm not exactly well-versed in info dumps myself, and b) I'm not sure exactly what you mean. I was in the same boat: I thought the reader NEEDED to know what I info dumped. But rereading a lot of things, it turned out they didn't NEED to know it all right away. So I can't really offer much advice without knowing more about the otherworldly beings.

    But just two cents... if otherworldy beings came into my life, I wouldn't know anything about them unless they showed it or revealed it to me. And I kind of doubt anyone would just come and reveal a great deal about themselves upon first meeting. However, I don't know your plot or what kind of beings we are talking about, so I could be wrong.
     
  24. KP Williams
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    Cog: Different perspective as in from a different character's point of view? That wouldn't do. It's a first person story that deals entirely with an ordinary guy's reaction to his world suddenly becoming weird. I can't show anything that he doesn't see. I honestly don't know how to adequately describe what's going on to any of you without throwing a full plot summary at you. I'm not exactly sure what you mean with the bit about the foundations of his peril.

    Arron: I anticipated you. :cool: I've done all I can in the trimming department. I suppose I could do everything in my power to make the scene really sparkle, but the more I think about it, the more I'm convinced that it has to go. I've never been fond of info dumps. I'm just at a loss as to what else I could do with the limited space I have. I think I'm sitting somewhere between fifty and sixty thousand words and I still have plenty of ground to cover.

    Char: Oh, the otherworldly guy already came and went, so to speak. The revelation would be conducted by another of the main characters, who happens to know quite a lot about these guys.

    The frustrating thing is that there's another potential info dump later in the story, yet I know exactly how to get around that one. This is the one I can't figure out how to show rather than tell.

    Anyway, sorry for hijacking the thread. :rolleyes:
     
  25. Cogito
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    Cogito Former Mod, Retired Supporter Contributor

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    Different perspective as in approaching the story differently. Sorry about the confusion. I have a short story that I've been working on that just requires tons of explanation the way I originally envisioned it. But I'm starting to work on a completely different approach that seems to be working better (so far).
     

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