Wednesday, January 18, 2006

Down in the Infodumps

You know what I'm talking about. Those big chunks of information that are essential to the story, but which most readers skip.

I'm currently writing a passage about a toxic substance. The reader needs to know what this substance does, how it works, and why it is so dangerous, because that sets up the suspense in several key scenes further down the road.

But laundry lists and textbook definitions aren't interesting. So these are the sneaky tricks I'm using to force the info down the reader's throat:
  1. I'm breaking the info into snippets of dialog. One character asks an important question, the answer imparts info. Dialog is active, not passive.
  2. I'm breaking up the info with conflict--two of the characters in the scene are flirting, and one is acting like a jerk.
  3. I'm putting in just a little less information than needed, and allowing the reader to fill in the blanks and make the logic jumps. Less is more, even when infodumping.
  4. I'm purposely leaving some questions unanswered. This turns exposition into part of the tension, making readers wait a bit for more info to fully understand what is happening.
  5. I'm keeping it brief. Readers care about the story, not about information, no matter how interesting it may be.

Also, when infodumping, use style. Bland, unexciting writing can make even the most revelatory disclosure boring. Some clever turns of phrase, or even a joke, can turn an infodump into a memorable scene.

All medicine goes better with a spoon full of sugar.