How to Spot an Info Dump

I got a great question from one of my email subscribers recently: “How do I know if I’m info-dumping?” Here’s my response!

Wait… What is an info-dump?

For those who don’t know, an info-dump refers to areas of a story where a fiction writer gives a long expository description, either in narrative or in dialogue, where they are basically “dumping” a bunch of information on the reader all at once, as opposed to revealing it naturally throughout the story. It’s most likely to happen in fantasy and science-fiction (the elaborate world-building in both genres can make info-dumping tricky to avoid), but can sneak into almost any genre.

Signs of an info-dump:

  • Read your passage out loud. Do you get bored? You might be info-dumping.
  • Has all conflict in your novel or short story come to a screeching halt while you spend more than 1-2 paragraphs explaining something to the reader? You might be info-dumping.
  • Are two characters telling each other things they already know for, like, a long time? You might be info-dumping.
  • If invited to read your work publicly, would you definitely NOT read that passage, because “nothing really happens” and you worry the audience would get bored listening to it? It could be an info-dump.

Signs that you are probably not info-dumping:

  • Have you woven in necessary backstory and information in 1-3 sentence bursts throughout your story? Not an info dump.
  • Does a character spend a short paragraph or two explaining something to another character that they didn’t already know, for a good story reason? Not an info dump.
  • Do you keep the story going and keep conflict and tension alive while you gradually show your reader what’s going on? Not an info dump.
  • Do you have just a few sections where you spend 200-300 words or less explaining something to the reader? As long as your story is on the longer side, you’re probably not doing too much info-dumping.

Again, these are just general guidelines. After you finish your story, though, you might want to give it to a friend or fellow writer to give you feedback and let you know if they spot any areas that are too thick with exposition.

Also, keep in mind that whether or not a writer is info-dumping can be subjective as well as genre-sensitive: Not everyone will agree about what makes a passage an info-dump or not, and if you’re writing a complicated fantasy with a lot of world-building and history, giving your reader a ton of info can be necessary at some stages. Also, readers of fantasy tend to be more tolerant of info-dumping because it comes with the territory sometimes.

Hope this helps!