Monday of Balticon, the sun shone bright and early, yet the Con continued and I unyieldingly kept attending panels.
At the crack of 10 am, to a packed audience, Gail Martin, Joshua Palmatier, and Tim Dodge paneled: Handling the Unavoidable Info-Dump*
The panel was neatly moderated with Q/As and this is what they taught us.
Why Do We Hate Info-dumps?
- They’re dry and boring after about 2 sentences. They stop the action. – Joshua Palmatier
- Plus, getting the story moving again is hard. – Gail Martin
- They take you out of the story. – Tim Dodge
- They’re like red lights on a car trip. – Joshua Palmatier
Why Do We Use Them?
- To give background. – Tim Dodge
- In a series, you can use them to remind/let readers know what happened previously. – Gail Martin
- We think it’s the shortest/easiest way to convey the info. Most times, just work harder. – Joshua Palmatier
Are They Evil? (If not, at what size do they become evil)
- I think it’s a cop-out, but they can be useful. Make them as short as possible. – Joshua Palmatier
- I agree. It should be 1 sentence to 1 short paragraph if absolutely needed. – Gail Martin
- I try not to say never (except bypassing punctuation altogether. DON’T.) But, if you use them, do them more as a trickle. No more than 3-4 sentences max. – Tim Dodge
- Remember the iceberg analogy. You only need to show 10% of the story background. – Gail Martin
What Are Better Ways To Convey The Information?
- Avoid, “Well, as you know Bob…” recaps! – Gail Martin
- Hint. Slowly reveal bits in the dialogue. – Tim Dodge
- Avoid narrative paragraphs or expo-dialogue. – Gail Martin.
- Agreed. Turn to dialogue first. Interact with the world. Use that to world build. – Joshua Palmatier (i.e. KISS- keep it simple, they don’t need to know everything.)
- i.e. “Sorry, we don’t have <cinnamon>, the war last year cut off our supply.”
- Don’t explain more than you would if we were from that place/time. i.e. A modern taxi. You wouldn’t explain how it worked or all the details, just the ones that make it unique. – Gail Martin
- Show the character doing research or have them pulled aside and shown a picture/video. – Tim Dodge
- Ask yourself if the information is even needed. – Joshua Palmatier
- Can we use human instinct to fill in the gaps? But, also a good tool to use by going a different way than the reader would expect. (Hard to do in epic fantasy/sf/historical fiction).- Gail Martin
- Tolkien’s strength was in his world building. Tolkien’s weakness was in his world building.
- Mention 1-2 details that are different about your inn versus other fantasy ones. Feel free to write to figure out the world, but EDIT IT OUT! – Joshua Palmatier.
- Inns are fun if you put a twist where it doesn’t meet expectations. – Gail Martin
- Tell about the story, NOT the world. – Joshua Palmatier
- Some authors, as they become more successful, editors stop editing and the works get more bloated. – Gail Martin
- Stephen King switched publishing houses because they stopped editing his work. – Joshua Palmatier
Should You Info-dump Previous Books (In a Series)
- I just try to nudge. When reading, I like it separate so I can just skip it. I blame myself if I’ve forgotten details.
- I like the nudge. Just like in real life, “Remember So-and-So? We met her a couple years ago at X’s party.“
Avoid Starting with Info-dumps!
- Don’t reminisce in bed. Too cliche.
- Hunt for Red October – The author wrote it for the navy and it was used as a textbook in the Naval Academy. His audience needed the high tech info-dumps.
- In children’s literature, they like the info-dumps. Adults usually don’t.
- Terry Pratchett has a strong narrative style and does info-dumps that people enjoy.
*No, really, more than 20 people attended a 10 am Monday morning panel.