Infodumping, but in a way that doesn't suck

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Editing for authors: because every writer needs a good editor.

writer316

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Great thread! :) In addition to what's been suggested above, here are some of the ways I could think of:
  • giving a newbie a tour of [space station/castle/lab/school] -- can work in what all the pieces of tech/gear are and any relevant myths (like "do you hear how oddly hollow our footsteps sound? they say that the ghost of Headmaster Krunks still haunts these halls")
  • finding out stuff in [newspaper article/Internet/ancient parchment/half-destroyed hieroglyphic runes] -- perfect for conveying history/culture
  • 1st person or 3rd limited monologues when debating something or worrying over something
  • work stuff into the character sketches when the MC meets that type of personage for the first time (probably more relevant for SFF)
  • the really tense spy-movie-style briefings on a new "case" (like those "Here is the target: Alex Bates, alias Richard Green, aged 28, 6'2", last spotted in Switzerland ..... " situations) -- though the "case" could be [situation developing in X/movement of Kingdom A's army into Valley B/steps needed to fix the intergalactic space-warper before the quantum engine explodes in 5-4-3-2-.....(!)]
 

MaeZe

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Everyone has great ideas. Mine is a little bitty thing.

It took me years to figure out I didn't need the world building in the first chapter than I thought I needed. I do have a very complicated story. People looking at the early chapters went immediately to what they knew: my character who lives in a village in hiding from the people in the city must be primitive yada yada. But they're not primitive. They were a modern people who fled into the wilderness with not much except the knowledge they had on their computer 'readers'.

At the same time my critique group kept reminding everyone to start as close as possible to the event that changed or defined the character.

I thought I was doing that until I realized I didn't need all that expo of the world. I don't mean expo as in text, I mean showing the reader we are not on Earth and the character is alone exploring.

I threw it all out and it was a great improvement.

It's okay to have a mystery unfold. I can make it clear enough the people in the village are not primitive without much expo at all. Start with that defining event and reveal stuff as you go, not all at once at the beginning of the story. It's all in your head, the whole world, the characters, what's going to happen. But the key is, the reader doesn't need to know half of what's in your head.
 

owlion

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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.
I think it helps I've been watching a first playthrough of those games, so it's fresh in my mind, but that style is also very distinctive to me (I haven't really seen it in other games). It's definitely good how you're never quite sure what's factual and what's made up!

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.
Yeah, often when it's not noticeable, it doesn't really get called much of anything because it blends in well. I try to aim for that, but I struggle with getting just enough information across, as opposed to too much.

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.
That's pretty cool! I enjoy that kind of thing, where you're just not quite sure.
 
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benbenberi

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It's okay to have a mystery unfold. I can make it clear enough the people in the village are not primitive without much expo at all. Start with that defining event and reveal stuff as you go, not all at once at the beginning of the story. It's all in your head, the whole world, the characters, what's going to happen. But the key is, the reader doesn't need to know half of what's in your head.
Very much this. As authors we have to know a ton of stuff about the world, the characters, the backstory, etc. It's natural for us to assume that readers need to know a lot about it too, and that they need it front loaded in order to understand the story. But they actually don't usually need to know most of it, in order to follow your story, and they almost certainly don't need it all in a lump at the beginning.

In addition to all the approaches to info dumping mentioned in this thread, there is an alternative approach that might be considered the diametric opposite of info-dumping, which Jo Walton dubbed "in-cluing." This is an approach that eschews explicit info-dumps in favor of sliding bits of information and contextual details into the narrative in such a way that readers can assemble the clues and construct the world for themselves without ever needing the lecture or textbook. It's a technically more challenging approach than just coming out with an "As you know, Bob" explanation of what's going on. And it does require readers who are willing to put the work in (even if they don't realize they're doing it) and know what to do with the clues you scatter for them. Walton talks about that too in her article on SF reading protocols. It can be a very effective technique once you figure it out.
 
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