Infodump or spreeeeeeead it oooooooout?

7 years ago | kspam (Member)

If a story DEMANDS a certain level of familiarity with the setting before going in for things to make sense for the reader (i.e. if the time/place/culture/history of your setting is a drastic departure from everyday reality), do you prefer to infodump all of that relevant exposition on them from the get go so they can keep up, or do you prefer to pace it out and make things feel more natural at the risk of losing a few readers who don't have the patience to follow?

Read responses...


  1. Wildbow (Member)

    Posted 7 years ago

    I find myself infodumping, hoping to break the habit in successive serials. People have complained of slow starts to Worm and Pact.

    Better to just give the necessary info.

  2. Taulsn (Member)

    Posted 7 years ago

    I am new at this so take my advice with a grain of salt. I personally find it fun to drag out the details and only give hints about the world as a whole. Since I haven't done a massive amount of world building it also allows me to make things up as I go along, or change things without needing to retcon previous chapters. These are also the kind of stories I like reading the most, where info is slowly disseminated to build the world. I don't know how my readers respond to my work because they aren't very responsive, I'm working on that. Mostly I am trying to figure this out as I go along.

  3. George M. Frost (Member)

    Posted 7 years ago

    I think the best strategy is neither, actually. Or both, depending on how you look at it, I suppose.

    Exposition IS the story. It should be enjoyable. Not something the reader has to endure before getting to the important stuff. You can make an infodump fun for the reader with a bit of structure. Try revealing curious details about something--and then immediately answer important questions that readers are likely to have about said details. The curiosity gives them a reason to keep reading and the immediate answers demonstrate that you HAVE actually put some thought into your stuff and aren't just spouting random nonsense. Unless you actually ARE spouting random nonsense. Then. I dunno what to tell you. Good luck with that, I guess.

    But that isn't to say you should explain everything this way. That would probably get tiresome and maybe predictable. And saving some of the details and explanations for later is a big, fat, hairy part of ongoing storytelling. It's a balancing act. Which sucks, because friggin' everything is a balancing act. WHICH IS A SUPER UNHELPFUL EXPRESSION, I KNOW, BUT THERE YOU HAVE IT.

    The Zombie Knight Saga -- undead superheroics
  4. Tempest (Member)

    Posted 7 years ago

    Put it in where it feels natural. I love infodumps as long as they are interesting and relevant. But nothing is more jarring that a detail that feels out of place. You have to find your own way of explaining the setting. If it is that much of a departure, it may require a bit of hand holding. Be delicate about that. You may not want the reader to know that they are having their hands held.

  5. G.S. Williams (Member)

    Posted 7 years ago

    Perspective is everything - Wildbow as a writer feels like info-dumping is something done too much in Worm and Pact, whereas I as a reader would say those two stories handle exposition the best way possible - the protagonists are both newbies in their respective settings (the superhero culture and the supernatural, respectively) so we as readers learn things when they learn things. That seems very natural and organic to me.

    Other stories give elaborate histories, or have characters who helpfully pass along exposition just for the sake of doing so. It comes across dull and forced that way, to me, because people in real life don't handily walk up and go "see that car? Isn't it great how Henry Ford perfected the assembly line at the start of the 20th century?". However, sci fi characters will do just that when protagonists see hover cars or robots.

  6. Fiona Gregory (Moderator)

    Posted 7 years ago

    If the setting is exotic, just starting the story by describing a normal day in the life of a ronin in 19th Century Japan, or an alien on the planet Topec, or an elf-prince in Tirnanog, should be interesting in itself. You can spice it up with some hints and foreshadowing of the conflict that the plot is going to be about. You should be able to work in most of the relevant details the reader needs to understand about the setting by showing the characters' interactions within it. No to the infodump, that will try your readers' patience quicker than anything else.

  7. Nick Bryan (Member)

    Posted 7 years ago

    Yeah, I find infodumps hard going as a reader. If some degree of exposition is 100% necessary, you can maybe engineer a scene where a character is a newcomer to a setting and needs to have it explained to them, but still be careful you aren't having people explain stuff which the other person should definitely already know.

    Hobson & Choi - my blackly comic mystery serial - existing now on Jukepop Serials!
  8. Psycho Gecko (Member)

    Posted 7 years ago

    I think that it works pretty well to work smaller bits of information into the narrative as you go along, but infodumps work as well providing that they don't last too long. If the narrative is at a tense point or in the middle of the action, maybe restrict it to one or two paragraphs. The absolute worst case I've ever seen was in the first Honor Harrington book where they're in a very tense part with a major conflict about to come to a head...and then the author goes into an infodump for like eight pages on some technology that's somewhat relevant but not all that important to explain right then. I hated it and skipped over it.

  9. kspam (Member)

    Posted 7 years ago

    @Psycho Gecko: lolwut. Seriously?

  10. Psycho Gecko (Member)

    Posted 7 years ago

    ***Spoiler Alert for "On Basilisk Station" by David Weber***

    They've discovered an enemy ship and are pursuing it to make sure it doesn't give the signal for an invasion force. Honor Harrington's ship is smaller and can't actually beat the enemy ship in a fight, but the enemy ship would rather see a successful invasion than a successful fight that might leave it unable to jump out and signal the fleet. It's the first and only naval battle of the ship, and the first where this character is a captain commanding a ship big enough to be given its own name. Everyone's ready.

    Then we get ten pages on the discovery and history of hyperspace travel. I had to take TV Tropes' word for the count, as I read it in a webpage format that had each chapter on its own page.

    It and several other of the books are available for free online, actually.

  11. Taulsn (Member)

    Posted 7 years ago

    That sounds awful in an oddly intriguing way, I might have to track that down.


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