The Dreaded Info Dump – Guest Post

Hey everybody! I’m Natalie (Indie from etherealpens.wordpress.com). Monkeyeverything is a bit busy at the moment so you’re stuck with me. Hopefully it won’t be completely unbearable…*winks*

Today I’m going to be talking about the dreaded infodump, especially in the first chapter. You know the kinds:

  1. The usual infodump. First chapter is basically all setting up for chapter two. You really don’t have anything to say so BOOM! Info dump.

Please don’t use this. Like, ever. It will make your story super boring. Start in the heat of the moment! Did your protagonist’s best friend just get murdered? Talk about that! Don’t get into how long they’ve been friends and flashbacks of their first playdate. This early in the story, your readers just want to know what happens next, not what has happened in the past.

  1. Main character description in a mirror, along with backstory we really don’t care about at that point.

She stared at herself in the mirror. Those long golden locks, pinned to the side with the barrettes her father gave her, glistened every time she turned her head. She looked just like her mother. It hurt. Her mother had died four years ago in a car accident. There was nothing anybody could do for her. It happened too fast, too soon, and they were too late. She blamed the people who did it to her beloved mother. She hated them.

You could go on for another paragraph or four at this point, describing why your main character hates the other people in the car accident. I have to say, this method of bringing backstory in is probably the most cliche. Because he isn’t just plain infodumping, the writer who uses this thinks: “Well, I’m not dumping information. I’m bringing stuff to light because my character is thinking about it. She’s comparing how she looks to how her mother used to look. Can’t I do that?”

Yes, you sure can. But this has been done so, so, so, so, so many times. C’mon, if your story is original and awesome like I’m sure it is, your backstory should be introduced in a good way, not one that will place the finished copy on the cliche, boring, done-one-billion-times shelf. Besides, you want to make crucial-to-personality backstory more MYSTERIOUS. If the backstory you’re currently infodumping could and should be revealed over time to add to the plot, then DO NOT mess up your plot by telling everything in one scene.

3. Important info infodump. THIS ONE IS KIND OF OKAY, GUYS!

Recently, I wrote a scene where my protagonist (who is truly a baby jellybean, just saying) is trading his dinner for a secret. Not really a secret, he just wants to know what the other dude knows. Anyway, to make it feel like my jellybean is really giving something up, I wrote a paragraph to describe how scarce food was at that time. This kind of infodump was something playing in his head and by writing a paragraph or two talking about why giving up food was so important, my character was able to make a sacrifice that would seem terrible to the reader.

NOTE: THERE ARE NECESSARY INFODUMPS

As long as you use #3 wisely and don’t go overboard, you can use it.

Personally, I like to try and not infodump as much as possible. If you can slowly integrate your backstory without being frustratingly ambiguous or being way too dramatic about it, then you are an awesome writer and I shall give you donuts.

When you’re writing your first draft, go ahead and dump info within reason. First drafts are about getting the words on the page. Also, I’m writing this during Camp Nanowrimo, if that explains things. ←- Justification, people.

If you think about it, what you need is to get info down on a page. While I’m not encouraging infodumps, because overall they stink to read, I think using #3 is okay.

Just use your paragraphs of info wisely and DON’T use your first chapter as a runway to your story. The first chapter is about introducing a character and starting with a preliminary problem, whether or not the problem is the antagonist. Did your protagonist find a body? Talk about that and don’t rehash a flashback from the protagonist’s past with that person. There’s room for character development later. Set the scene, kill the lights, and shout “Action!” because you don’t have time for slow-moving stuff.

Thanks for not getting TOO bored, everyone!

~ Natalie

P.S. Go check out my blog if you want randomness and occasional excerpts/poetry/short stories! #shamelessadvertising

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