Handling the Unavoidable Info-dump!

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*

I wonder how much of my first draft is full of info dumps?I wonder how much of my first draft is full of info-dumps?

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!

Random Notes:

  • 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.


  1. “Avoid Starting with Info-dumps!” – I’m writing history these days, and history is about info, but it has to fit the narrative and this is important to remember. Thanks!


      1. I’ll need to be more selective than that, or this one chapter will end up a book in itself. A very convoluted book. I know to always write more, so there will be parts on the cutting-room floor – nothing worse to frustrate an editor than to leave nothing to cut out – but it is also time-consuming to overwrite, and then have to week out. I’ve done it a lot of that in the past, and end up having to start over, and write from start, after seemingly endless hours in the editing room, trying to separate the dross from the keeps with a net and an x-acto knife.


      2. Hmmm. They always talk about using index cards to organize a chapter, can you do that, maybe color coded by person or activity to try and balance out the information?


      3. Morgan – thanks for the suggestion. I’ve been using Excel to create a flexible document that can be easily categorized, and had forgotten to do this! I can use colors!


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