Infodumping, but in a way that doesn't suck

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ChaseJxyz

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So I'm playing a game, made by a guy who has a habit of info-dumping. But it's always in a particular way, such as....

Character A: Says something plot-relevant
Character B: Hey, have you ever heard [conspiracy theory thing]?
Character A: Huh?
Character B: [Explanation of thing]. And it happened because of [paranormal thing]
Character A: But [paranormal thing] isn't real, that's impossible.
Character B: So how do you explain [conspiracy theory thing]?
Character A: Gives a reasonable explanation and isn't convinced at all by this conversation

But then later in the game, you learn that [paranormal thing] is very much real, and it's critical to the plot. Sometimes these explanations are a little relevant, while others you need to totally comprehend so you don't get lost when things start to get Weird (which they absolutely will).

The reason why I'm bringing this up and wanting to hear what other people think of this is because one of these conversations happen about the Mandela Effect, which made me go "uh oh, I have This Exact Same Conversation in my story." I only give one or two concrete examples of what the Mandela Effect is, while the game gives 6 or 7. And I get WHY the game does this, because nothing weird has happened yet, so the idea that this might be real has to be Inception-ed into the players' (and MC's) mind. But in my story, weird stuff has already happened, so it serves more as an explanation and shows that this is a thing that already exists in the world of the story.

I know that infodumping is very common in fantasy and sci fi, where the information that is being shared doesn't exist in reality. You can't whip out your phone and google the history of the kingdom of talking birds. But also if I read a book and a character told me, the reader, to just google a real-world thing was, I wouldn't like that very much. Why won't the author just...explain it to me? And in a way that's fun, interesting, and adds to the story? It's also not equitable to require your reader to have some sort of cultural knowledge beforehand to be able to access your story. Or to google it. The work should be able to stand on its own, you shouldn't need to do research to enjoy it. I am also a big hater of the "I'm going to explain how wormholes work even though I'm telling this to an astrophysicist who already knows this, I'm only doing this for the sake of the audience" trope. Luckily this seems to only really happen in Hollywood movies, where there's a good chance the audience wouldn't already know this info and there's not a lot of time to do things.

So then...how does one infodump in a way that's fun, interesting, and adds to the story? In a way that makes sense diegetically? And doesn't put an undue burden on the reader to come from a similar cultural/educational background as yourself to already know this information?

UNRELATED: Is the Statue of Liberty on Ellis Island or Liberty Island? Don't google it or ask anyone else, what do YOU believe to be the correct answer?
 
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owlion

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So I'm playing a game, made by a guy who has a habit of info-dumping. But it's always in a particular way, such as....

Character A: Says something plot-relevant
Character B: Hey, have you ever heard [conspiracy theory thing]?
Character A: Huh?
Character B: [Explanation of thing]. And it happened because of [paranormal thing]
Character A: But [paranormal thing] isn't real, that's impossible.
Character B: So how do you explain [conspiracy theory thing]?
Character A: Gives a reasonable explanation and isn't convinced at all by this conversation

But then later in the game, you learn that [paranormal thing] is very much real, and it's critical to the plot. Sometimes these explanations are a little relevant, while others you need to totally comprehend so you don't get lost when things start to get Weird (which they absolutely will).
I think I might know which game this is. If it is, then the main issue I had was that it was a bit strange just how much detail some of the characters knew about what felt like very specific trivia. It felt like they had Wikipedia open in their minds at times (though it was definitely fun).

So then...how does one infodump in a way that's fun, interesting, and adds to the story? In a way that makes sense diegetically? And doesn't put an undue burden on the reader to come from a similar cultural/educational background as yourself to already know this information?
I think you can put this information into the story without infodumping - which refers to dropping it all in one place to explain. You can filter it in throughout, have visual cues, the POV character considering things, brief conversations when it makes sense etc. You can also compare it quickly to something more accessible, so readers have a good image to help them. Something along those lines.

UNRELATED: Is the Statue of Liberty on Ellis Island or Liberty Island? Don't google it or ask anyone else, what do YOU believe to be the correct answer?
I didn't know the Statue of Liberty was on a named island, to be honest. I'd guess Ellis Island because it feels like a trick question!
 

Woollybear

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The way I see infodumping work most effectively is by bringing people from two different cultures, conflicting cultures, into conversation. They each need to explain their side to the character from the other culture, in order to relieve the story tension over the conflict.

It's the story tension and the conflict that makes the device work, of one character telling another (ignorant) character the information.

"If that (keg of gunpowder) gets anywhere near that open flame, we'll all die. The explosive force will destroy this entire village."

"(opposite bit of information to reveal the other culture who has some other reason they want to put the thing in the fire.)"
 
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Nether

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Tech issue so quoting differently.

---->But then later in the game, you learn that [paranormal thing] is very much real, and it's critical to the plot. Sometimes these explanations are a little relevant, while others you need to totally comprehend so you don't get lost when things start to get Weird (which they absolutely will).

I've kinda info-dumped like that a few times... although, come to think about it, both related to a self-growing house. Although it wasn't a lot of info in RRWARB and then in WWWRH a group of kids was whipping off wild claims, occasionally agreeing with each other or expanding on another one's point (although their stories were greatly embellished to make themselves look good).

Although I guess it's not exactly like your example, because this was more of a direct question which starts the info dump (or other people enter having heard something related discussed). And I guess my scenario might not really be info dumping anyway. 🤷‍♂️

---->So then...how does one infodump in a way that's fun, interesting, and adds to the story? In a way that makes sense diegetically? And doesn't put an undue burden on the reader to come from a similar cultural/educational background as yourself to already know this information?

If not through conversation, then probably in-voice and through the lens of how the character understands it (and/or learned about it), while keeping the concept as brief as possible.

---->UNRELATED: Is the Statue of Liberty on Ellis Island or Liberty Island? Don't google it or ask anyone else, what do YOU believe to be the correct answer?

Given what I know of Ellis Island, I had to guess Liberty Island although I had no clue other than knowing it couldn't have been Ellis Island because you wouldn't have a giant monument on an island for processing immigrants.
 

Brigid Barry

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+1 to Woollybear on reasonable infodumping. I love Michael Crichton and this is how he always seems to work things in.

As far as cultural things that are real world, I'm a little on the fence. On one hand it's nice to have things kind of handed to me so the thing can stand on it's own, but at the same time (especially if it's an own voices piece) is it fair to expect someone to teach us about their culture.

Obviously if it's fantasy and everything is made up, then cultures need to be explained.

+1 to Nether on the Statue of Liberty. I'm going to Google it now.
 

Unimportant

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So then...how does one infodump in a way that's fun, interesting, and adds to the story? In a way that makes sense diegetically? And doesn't put an undue burden on the reader to come from a similar cultural/educational background as yourself to already know this information?
Read, analytically, novels that have done this well in your opinion, and copy those authors' tricks, strategies, timing, methods, etc.
 
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CMBright

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I'm wondering if the info is worked in in a way that doesn't detract from the story, is necessary info dumped into the story still info-dumping?
 

Unimportant

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I'm wondering if the info is worked in in a way that doesn't detract from the story, is necessary info dumped into the story still info-dumping?
Done in a way that keeps the reader engaged, it's storytelling. Done in a way that doesn't keep the reader engaged, it's info-dumping.
 

Adaephon Delat

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So then...how does one infodump in a way that's fun, interesting, and adds to the story? In a way that makes sense diegetically? And doesn't put an undue burden on the reader to come from a similar cultural/educational background as yourself to already know this information?
I've found there are two major concerns when it comes to info-dumping: the possibility of boring your reader, or the possibility of insulting them. Personally, my favorite method of info-dump is via dialogue. But with dialogue, you have to make sure it feels both organic and plausible. If it's not organic, it kills the pacing and yanks the reader out of the story. And if it's not plausible, you insult the reader by making them feel like you thought they needed their hand held.

I find that the combination of conveying the info in smaller doses of dialogue, and sometimes posing it in such a way that it is implied without being said outright--thus inviting the reader to unconsciously participate in the dissemination of said info by figuring some of it out for themselves--avoids making the reader feel like they're being spoon-fed.

As for the Statue of Liberty, my gut belief was that she was on Ellis Island. (Granted, this from someone who lived most of his life in the Bronx, and the rest in New York's Tri-state neighbor, New Jersey, and yet has never gone to visit Lady Liberty.)
 

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:Thumbs: Great and informative thread! Info-dumping is one of the things that always trip me up, so I'm takin' plenty of notes! :)



Chase said:
(...) I'm telling this to an astrophysicist who already knows this, I'm only doing this for the sake of the audience" trope.

Isn't that the trope that's known as "As You Know, Bob" ? :D


UNRELATED: Is the Statue of Liberty on Ellis Island or Liberty Island? Don't google it or ask anyone else, what do YOU believe to be the correct answer?

Not exactly something I was taught in school so I have NO idea... I'll go out on a limb and say Liberty Island :LOL:


Norsebard
 

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UNRELATED: Is the Statue of Liberty on Ellis Island or Liberty Island? Don't google it or ask anyone else, what do YOU believe to be the correct answer?
It’s on Liberty Island, which was officially named Bedloe’s Island until the 1950s, though people commonly referred to it as Liberty Island even then.

Relevant to this thread, there is a scene in my novel-in-progress that takes place on the island, and in the course of their conversation the characters have an exchange about the island’s name. The novel is set in 1950, when the island is still officially Bedloe’s, and when one of the characters points out that fact, the other makes a philosophical observation that what a thing is actually called is as much its name, if not more, than what it’s officially put down as.

The point is that the way to work information into your story is not to infodump it at all, but to work it in such that it does as much lifting as possible, contributing to multiple elements of your story. In the case of my small example here, the little piece of information—the official name of Liberty Island—is put to work characterizing both participants in the conversation, the slightly nervous and pedantic character who feels the urge to point out the official name, and the more expansive-thinking, metaphorically inclined character who turns it around into a philosophical question.

Certainly with more involved chunks of information that you want to convey to your readers, you have to do proportionally more work to convey that information. But try to think of other things you can do with it besides just conveying information, and you will see paths out of the realm of the infodump and into the realm of meaningful writing. Everything in your writing should do as much work as possible. Your worldbuilding elements can also enhance plot and characterization and theme. Your plot elements can also contribute to worldbuilding and characterization and theme, And so on.

:e2coffee:
 

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I like to convey information through dialogue as a way to both say what I need to say while also bringing conflict and/or developing the relationship between the characters. It's also a great way to showcase the characters' personalities. I've also been practising the technique of communicating information via scenarios, images, symbols in general, and I love it!

When it's directly spoken (either through dialogue or description), I try to first create a tickle of curiosity in the reader. Or give "half" the information and leave readers curious to know more.

It's a delicate balance between storytelling and info-dumping (as Unimportant distinguished it), and I know I'm guilty of info-dumping a few times x)

UNRELATED: Is the Statue of Liberty on Ellis Island or Liberty Island? Don't google it or ask anyone else, what do YOU believe to be the correct answer?
Liberty Island seems like the obvious choice... and maybe because it's obvious, Ellis Island might be the correct answer. But I'll go with my gut feeling and say Liberty Island.
 

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UNRELATED: Is the Statue of Liberty on Ellis Island or Liberty Island? Don't google it or ask anyone else, what do YOU believe to be the correct answer?
It used to be called Bedloe's Island, but I have no idea of the present name. I think Ellis Island is a separate island nearby.
 

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No idea on the game reference but info dumping doesn't feel like dumping if it naturally follows a tangent. Like character A mentions his brother and then there's a bit of info about him in the next paragraph. There's an exception to this, as in the information is poorly written and comes across robotic or if the info interrupts a conversation. I like to stick it in where the characters might pause or go silent and busy themselves with something.

The last two books I read did info dumps that were pointless, in the end. One was almost two pages long and, whilst I read it, I can't remember half the information and sadly, most of it ended up being relevant. The other one did the old 'Charlotte had blue eyes and dark brown hair that she always wore in a bun. She wore jeans and a navy blue shirt that poked out from beneath her cashmere sweater. Expensive jewelry adorned her neck and wrists yet her sneakers looked like they'd seen better days. About forty, Charlotte hadn't aged well, despite the obvious plastic surgery to her cheekbones and boobs - I mean, they were rock solid. She sat opposite me and sighed, she looked annoyed.

UNRELATED: Is the Statue of Liberty on Ellis Island or Liberty Island? Don't google it or ask anyone else, what do YOU believe to be the correct answer?

All I 'know' about the Statue of Liberty is that it was made in France and it didn't used to be green. If I had to guess, I'd go Liberty Island... Statue of Ellis doesn't have the same ring to it. Although now it feels too obvious so... can I change my answer? :unsure:
 

ChaseJxyz

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I think I might know which game this is. If it is, then the main issue I had was that it was a bit strange just how much detail some of the characters knew about what felt like very specific trivia. It felt like they had Wikipedia open in their minds at times (though it was definitely fun).

I saw a meme about this guy's games and it went "hey did you know [picture of Wikipedia article] I just thought it was neat." But it's hard to tell which of his stuff is based in reality and which is fictionalized. I googled Ice-9 to see if it was real when I first encountered that recounting lol. Which I guess speaks to his ability to make things seem believable, in a conspiracy theory sort of way.


And, yeah, I guess it's not an "info dump" if it's done well. People only call it that when it's done poorly.

Also very interesting to see everyone's thoughts about the Statue of Liberty thing. I bring it up because it was in the game, and two characters are arguing about which answer is right, and you have to pick sides. (AiNi spoiler, if you care)
I pick Ellis island, because that SOUNDS right, and the argument isn't really solved, since both parties believe they're right. But also I am not 100% on this and I'm thinking "Uchikoshi, are you gaslighting me?" Later, when you are being info dumped at about the Mandela Effect, this is brought up specifically. And there's the line "In this world, the Statue of Liberty is on Ellis Island. It was never on Liberty Island." And then I google it to see that it is, indeed, on Liberty Island and always has been (as in, it wasn't moved from one island to another). Uchikoshi, you bastard, you got me AGAIN. But that whole moment was really powerful and really fit into the themes of the work, with the ARG and me struggling to get a good look at a QR code in-game to scan it on my phone.
 
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I promise I didn't google... I think the statue of Liberty is on Liberty Island. I mean, it makes sense, doesn't it? Is this a trick question? 🤣

I like to use a mix of dialogue and narrative for 'infodumping'. In my YA novel I have two viewpoint characters who live in the same city and know each other pretty well, so they can take it in turns to 'explain' how things work there and even tell the reader a few things about each other. So hopefully it comes across with a light touch. Hopefully.

I do think that backgrounding/infodumping or whatever you like to call it is one of the hardest things to do organically. It can jar the reader and remind them that they're reading a work of fiction if the author isn't really careful. At the same time, most fiction readers are used to the conventions (unless they're reading their first novel ever) and expect a bit of background explanation that wouldn't exist in a film, for example. So long as the author isn't OTT didactic, hopefully the reader will be forgiving.

Also, you can sprinkle the infodumping throughout the whole novel, instead of loading it all into the first couple of chapters (I'm not saying you do this. But some authors certainly do). Ask yourself if the reader really needs to know a piece of info at the start. If not, maybe it could be left until a later chapter? Especially if there's already a lot crammed into the first chapters.
 
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Iustefan

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I prefer when info-dumps are seamless within the narrative. I find some authors want to tell readers everything all at once, which bores me to death. Long paragraphs explaining history, or lore, or background information is dull for me.

Put the exposition into scenes, and give us relevant information as it’s required. Make the scenes interesting, and let the reader’s imagination fill in the gaps.

Also, I find characters who are presented as out of time/space/culture to be a bit of a turn off. Sometimes it works, but often it just stands out too much to me.
 

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I prefer when info-dumps are seamless within the narrative. I find some authors want to tell readers everything all at once, which bores me to death. Long paragraphs explaining history, or lore, or background information is dull for me.

Put the exposition into scenes, and give us relevant information as it’s required. Make the scenes interesting, and let the reader’s imagination fill in the gaps.

Also, I find characters who are presented as out of time/space/culture to be a bit of a turn off. Sometimes it works, but often it just stands out too much to me.

So do I. I actually managed to get through Moby Dick in junior high. Back in the day, info was normally presented that way. No, I'm not quite that old, Moby Dick was a classic back when I was in junior high. Teacher didn't think I'd read the thing when I said I'd read it, so I read it and did a book report on it.

If you want info-dumping with long paragraphs explaining stuff to see how not to do it? Yeah, that book can go on for a page or more on the most trivial stuff like a tobacco pipe.
 

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I admit that I do not prefer infodump-by-dialogue; just because something's in quotation marks doesn't mean that it's interesting or exciting. And I LIKE infodumping - I grew up reading a lot of classics and older books, and one of the most fascinating things about a lot of those books was the deep dive into information and experiences that weren't familiar to me. While, yes, you have your Moby Dicks, and your fifty-page digression on the Paris sewer system in Les Mis...I genuinely cherish a lot of the knowledge I got from reading.

I'd rather it be presented clearly and cleanly; I don't need people conversing about the thing. Just tell me about the thing! It'd be good if you can put an interesting spin on it, whether it's a dry and sarcastic comparison to some Previous Version of Thing, or helping the reader to see the connections between Physical Thing and the politico-social landscape that led up to Physical Thing being the version of the thing we got, but not necessarily the only possible version.

But, either way, just give me a reason to care about Thing, then tell me about Thing, then make sure Thing is relevant to the story/setting/characters.
 

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As far as cultural things that are real world, I'm a little on the fence. On one hand it's nice to have things kind of handed to me so the thing can stand on it's own, but at the same time (especially if it's an own voices piece) is it fair to expect someone to teach us about their culture.

Obviously if it's fantasy and everything is made up, then cultures need to be explained.
Agree with this, but would note that even someone like Andy Weir assumes a lot of "basic background" and facility with scientific thinking. Sure you could read much of his work without much scientific understanding, but I doubt very much you'd enjoy the work as much. Crichton is similar.

Could be a bit of chicken and egg thing going on here too: people who like tech stuff self-select for techie novels and thus are more likely to have the required background (same would go for philosophical novels etc.).
 

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Liberty Island and Ellis Island are two different things.

I don't mind infodumping as long as it's interesting!
 
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Brigid Barry

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Agree with this, but would note that even someone like Andy Weir assumes a lot of "basic background" and facility with scientific thinking. Sure you could read much of his work without much scientific understanding, but I doubt very much you'd enjoy the work as much. Crichton is similar.

Could be a bit of chicken and egg thing going on here too: people who like tech stuff self-select for techie novels and thus are more likely to have the required background (same would go for philosophical novels etc.).
I am not techie or science minded at all.


On a somewhat related note, I am reading Alison Weir's novel series about the queens of Henry VIII. She explains nothing and all you get are context clues. Skittles was a game in the 15th century, apparently. If I want to know more I can do a search, but it wasn't relevant enough to the novel to need a search or an explanation.
 

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I am not techie or science minded at all.
You might be more scientifically sophisticated than you realize :)

But yes, as long as some context is given all is well. More knowledge can improve the experience though, and there is a trade off between explaining things for everyone and boring your core demographic.