Infodumps Part 2 – make the reader do the heavy lifting

Another thought on infodumps…

I was writing this scene, and there’s some stuff the other characters need to know which one of the characters knows.

Oh, I thought I’d be sneaky and stick stuff in there that the reader needs to know. Use my protagonist as a little information dump mole and make her the stooge, the mouthpiece.

NO! I won’t do it.

may have someone repeat back the reader’s digest version. That eliminates the awkward whole thing of sounding like a 4th grade science report. It’s time to use some of my tell/don’t show skills, and remember that Alfred Hitchcock says, “What is drama but life with the dull bits cut out.”

Er, he doesn’t say that anymore. He’s dead.

If you didn’t know that, I’m sorry for your loss.

Right, then, where were we?

I try for a sort of minimalism, which is to put the lines necessary on the paper, but not to go crazy with detail. I always think that the reader is educated and can do most of the heavy lifting. I have to give her enough to draw a picture in her head, but I’ll let her put in the filler stuff around the important parts necessary for the scene to work. Remembering the idea that the average person doesn’t understand how their cell phone works, neither then does the reader need to know how all the gadgets in my story work. Suffice to say that they exist and I may mention them in passing and the reader may draw her own conclusions, without dwelling on detail too much.  The point of the story is to see what the characters are going to do, not to give a sales brochure on Chieftain Combat Systems’ latest and most advanced heavy combat armor, now with cupholders.  Fah! Unnecessary.

Think of infodumps as pooping and peeing. Gross, yeah, I have kids and I’m waaaaaaay over it. There was this one time when the 3 year old boy was learning to poop in the toilet and he went without telling us.  Then he proceeded to get excrement on every surface of the bathroom… the floor of his bedroom… the floor of the living room carpet, and several toys, and himself.

Funniest darned thing I’ve ever seen.

Anyway, you don’t describe going to the bathroom for your characters, usually. I have read many novels where none of the characters ever use the bathroom, and that’s fine.  We know it happens, except in small baby chicks, and we don’t need to talk about it. It’s not even important to the novel. Middle Earth doesn’t even have a bathroom anywhere.

But we don’t need to imply anything or explain anything to the readers. They’re fine with it like that. No one ever pops up and says, “good tension, you had a great first chapter, but your characters didn’t go to the bathroom for 8 hours, what’s that about?”  That’s kind of what your infodumps are. It’s descriptions of stuff that we probably do not need to know.

Just sprinkle your info as you go. Enough to get us into the scene. Tell us what we NEED to know, but go sparingly.

Go ahead. Comment. You’re probably going to say what everyone else is thinking, which will shore up this piece in so many ways.