What Is Infodumping? And How Can You Avoid It?

Two summers ago, I started watching Lost. Two Christmases ago, I finished season 2. I’ve already been told not to expect resolution for pretty much anything, so I have been delaying watching the rest of the series so I don’t get too emotionally attached and start having expectations of answers. As a result, I’m still working my way through season 3. I watched two more episodes earlier this month after an 8-month hiatus. Thankfully, there’s the “previously on Lost” montage to get me caught up quickly.

Wikipedia has a fun name for the aforementioned previously-on-Lost montage: infodumping.

Dump Truck

Photo by JD Hancock (Creative Commons)

Infodumping is pretty much exactly what it sounds like. Imagine you’re under a bucket of water, and someone pours the whole thing on top of you. Now imagine a bucket that’s ten times larger, and imagine that you’re being drenched in exposition instead of water.

Infodumping is what happens when the author gives the reader a massive amount of background information in a matter of pages instead of letting the story unfold. It’s generally not good.

Places Where You Might Be Tempted to Infodump

Aside from getting a viewer reacquainted with what has happened so far this season on The Good Wife, infodumping can be used effectively in comedic works of parody or satire. It can take the form of an “as you know…” lecture, in which one character tells another what has been going on for the past fifty pages, in case the reader hasn’t been paying attention.

This conversation would never realistically happen. A cousin of the “as you know…” lecture is the villain monologue, which thoroughly explains the villain’s evil plot for destroying the world/kidnapping the princess/eating the last cookie. God forbid the reader be smart enough to pick up on subtle hints along the way.

Moral of the story here: infodumping is bad. Lost is good. At least through the first half of season three.

PRACTICE

Remember what we just told you not to do? Go forth and infodump like it’s your last opportunity to do so, because it very well may be. Write for fifteen minutes about the first day of spring. Post your block of exposition in the comments, and leave notes for your fellow writers.

About Liz Bureman

Liz Bureman has a more-than-healthy interest in proper grammatical structure, accurate spelling, and the underappreciated semicolon. When she's not diagramming sentences and reading blogs about how terribly written the Twilight series is, she edits for the Write Practice, causes trouble in Denver, and plays guitar very slowly and poorly. You can follow her on Twitter (@epbure), where she tweets more about music of the mid-90s than writing.

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