What is information dumping?
Information dumping happens when the writer gives lots of information at once instead of letting the story unfold. The BLPG members described it like this:
“turning the novel into a lecture”
“telling instead of showing”
“pushing your agenda”.
Why is it a problem?
Information poured out in one long exposition can be boring. You lose the opportunity to engage the reader in the story, to create tension, or build the reader’s connection with a character. It can also deny the reader the opportunity to bring their own feelings and experiences to the story. One BLPG member said a book she read recently made her feel like the author was beating her over the head with their agenda! She said she felt as though the author didn’t trust her to reach the right conclusion.
What are the alternatives?
Sometimes, you just have to communicate important information to a reader. Happily, there are ways to do this without being a bore or thumping your podium. The most obvious method is to integrate the information into a scene as much as possible. You can do this by making it relevant to the action. For example, instead of giving us the history of a character’s childhood asthma, make him struggle to breathe as he rushes to catch a train. Dialogue can also be a useful tool for integrating information into a scene but beware, it can also become a dumping ground itself if you don’t keep the conversation relevant to the narrative.
Other ways to communicate information without dumping it on your reader include:
Keep it brief. When Paul Kelly sings “They got married early, never had no money,” you get an instant picture of the two main characters in his song.
Link it to a character’s personality. For example, instead of telling us that Sarah hated her late mother-in-law, let her make a nasty comment about her at the funeral.
Introduce the truth gradually. Only tell the reader what they need to know at any given moment. For example, instead of telling us in chapter one that the main character’s parents died leaving her an inheritance, show her coming home to a beautiful apartment after a shift at her minimum wage cleaning job.
Show, don’t tell. Evie Wyld doesn’t tell us that a scene in the bass rock is set after World War Two; she has an English character insist on calling the family dog Albert instead of it’s real name, Ludwig. Other scenes in the book are set in different time periods, and Wyld lets us know where we are in time by sewing period-relevant objects (like cash machines) into the settings.
The Book Length Project Group meets on the third Sunday of every month at Mattie Furphy House in Swanbourne, Western Australia. All FAWWA members and friends are welcome to join us. Go to The Fellowship of Australian Writers WA (fawwa.org) for more information.