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Old 01-17-2009, 01:19 AM
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Default Info Dump


Originally written by HoiLei


What is an "info dump"?

An info dump is when you dump a bunch of information about a character (or several characters!) on the reader in a short space. New writers often do this, giving physical descriptions, biographies, motivations, and personality traits whenever they introduce someone. Now, it's marvelous to know your characters well, since that will help you write about them. But it's important to consider how your readers get to know them.

Info dumping is a bad idea for a number of reasons.

It keeps readers out of the action for a while. Stories where things are happening are more interesting than stories where we have to read everyone's history before we see them in action. The human attention span can be short, so readers might get bored with a list of facts and stop reading altogether!

Also, whether intentional or not, dumping info is talking down to the reader. It suggests that you don't think people can pick those things up from context. Hand in hand with that, it spoils the thrill of discovery. Readers want to learn about characters the same way as in real life: by watching them and figuring stuff out for themselves.

Think for a moment of the people you love. How would you feel if someone introduced them to you to you by telling their heights, weights, life histories, and hobbies? Wouldn't you feel a little gypped? The fun and excitement of a relationship is found in learning about someone, having four hour phone conversations, discovery. Let your readers discover your characters.

Finally, who can keep track of all that info? When the action starts, readers won't remember who has blonde hair or who played football. Far better to take us into the action and give us things as we need them.

Fixing an info dump

First: highlight the text of the info dump. Move it into another file and label that "Backstory" or "Character Info". Now you won’t feel bad about deleting it from your story! After all, you still have it in case you need it.

Now, for your story. Work on weaving the information into the story. Here are some tips:

Describe the character’s house or surroundings. This will give us hints about personality. For instance, if you show pictures of his kimono-clad grandmother on the wall, readers know he's Japanese without you saying so! See how the reader gets the fun of figuring it out?

Mention how the characters move and talk during interactions. For instance, instead of saying "She had always been nervous and fidgety, ever since her abusive first marriage", you could talk about how she serves tea with "nervous, birdlike motions". That tells readers that she’s a nervous sort, and leaves a little mystery as to why. The whole story can come out later. In the meantime, on with the action!

Let one character describe another. This is a neat trick that allows you to show multiple little character traits at once. Here’s an example:

"I saw Jason today." Archie tossed his hat in the corner and slammed the door. A puff of air stirred the lacy curtains.

Bessie picked the hat up and dusted it fondly, setting it on its perch. "How was he?"

"Pfft. Piss and vinegar, as usual."
See how we can tell that Archie is a cavalier, not terribly classy type? Bessie’s obviously fond of him, though. Also something of a tidy homemaker, if the curtains are anything to go by. And Jason comes off as a griper.

The main thing to remember is to give information throughout the story, rather than dumping it all at once.

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Last edited by HoiLei; 01-17-2009 at 02:04 PM.. Reason: fix quote box
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