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Definition from Oxford English Dictionary
A large (often unwieldy or indigestible) amount of information supplied all at once, spec. as background information in a narrative. OED
What is info dumping?
Sometimes it feels necessary to share important information – like backstory or a description setting – with the reader at a particular moment in the story, but is it really the right moment? And are you sharing the information in the best way? Overwhelming the reader with detail in a big chunk can be problematic for lots of reasons. For one, it’s likely to be distracting and pull focus from the ‘here and now’ story, like pausing a football match right before the final minute to show clips of the previous game, or a singer stopping a gig halfway through to talk to you at length about their tour schedule.
Readers, particularly young ones with shorter attentions spans, may feel frustrated and impatient if they have to pull themselves away from the action and wade through descriptions or historical details before returning to the plot. Exposition and description are super important to your novel but they should be integrated thoughtfully throughout, rather than dumped on the page in one go.
Exposition, backstory, description, world building
What are the problems with info dumping?
- It may bore readers if it comes in long chunks with no action or dialogue breaking it up
- It can slow the pace of the novel, pausing the story while you fill in background details
- It could make readers feel you don’t trust them to understand the story without over-explaining
- Readers probably won’t remember all the information you’re giving them if you overload with too much detail at once
What do children’s authors need to know?
Info dumps can be problematic no matter who you’re writing for but a middle grade or YA audience may be even less forgiving of large chunks of exposition or description that slow the narrative and feel out of place. The younger the reader the shorter their attention span and the less familiar and confident they are with novels so putting the action on hold while you explain or describe something at length that the reader doesn’t really need to know – at least not right now – may have them reaching for their bookmark.
Kidlit authors often feel they need to over-explain things to young readers which can result in excessive detail and exposition but in fact your audience will process those details far better if you present them naturally as part of the story rather than as paragraphs or even pages of information they feel the need to ‘get through’ in order to enjoy the rest of the book.
To find out more about info dumping and how to avoid it, have a look at these resources:
- The shocking truth about info dumps | Writer Unboxed
- Info Dumps Aren’t Evil | LitReactor
- Pacing your exposition in kidlit | Kid lit
- Most Common Writing Mistakes, Pt. 50: Info Dumps | Helping Writers Become Authors
- What is info dumping and how can you avoid it? | The Write Practice
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Siobhan O'Brien Holmes is a developmental editor working with middle grade and YA authors. She specialises in speculative and genre fiction, particularly horror, fantasy, mystery, sci-fi and anything with a dash of magic or macabre. She is a member of the SfEP, EFA, ACES, British Fantasy Society, Horror Writers Association and SCBWI. She has an MA in Novel Writing and an MA in Children's Literature.All stories by: Siobhan O'Brien Holmes