While we are talking about the tin rules I thought I should also touch on the ‘information dump’ which is often a stumbling block for fiction writers. This is where the author feeds a bunch of information directly to the reader so they can understand what is happing in the story. It should be said that it is best avoided at all costs, but sometime you can’t, especially in the world of speculative fiction where you encounter non-human life forms or unusual worlds that need to be explained.
So what constitutes a good vs bad info sharing?
- “As you know, Bob, the Lexees feed off our laughter, so it is important to keep a straight face.” –BAD info dump
- “Is it true, Bob, that the Lexees feed off laughter?” “Yes, Bertha, so it is important not to crack so much as a smile when we are near them.” – Slightly better info dump
- ‘Bertha and Bob faced the Lexees. The twisted arms of the creatures madly spun in the air, making fart-like noises. Bertha couldn’t help herself, a small giggle slipped from her lips and instantly the Lexees fed on the sound; visibly getting larger. Bob shot Bertha a withering look and her smile faded.’ – Better (we are talking technique here, not necessarily the prose) no info dump.
This comes back to the old ‘show don’t tell’ rule, which many writers swear by. The problem is you can see it takes a lot more words to show something rather than simply stating it. Sometimes it might take pages to ‘show’ the information, and that can really slow the pace of your story.
So I won’t say don’t do the dump, but try to be clever in how you do it; have your character look at a map and describe where the action is taking place, find an old book that details lore or magic rules, have a plausibly ignorant person ask a question. Make sure you have an excuse to state the information, that way it is more believable and might not even stand out as an information dump to your reader.