One of the things I really like seeing in fantasy books is world-building. I love it when a writer is able to weave a whole new world, or an alternative universe of our world, and make it seem like a place of exploration of adventure. However, this can fall flat sometimes. There are many reasons, like the world being rather unoriginal or the author actually not fleshing out their fantasy world. Today, I’ll be discussing one of the things that makes this fail for me: information dumps.
Characteristics of an information dump:
- A really long explanation of something in the fantasy world (e.g. the history of a city, an ongoing war, how a system works)
- The explanation may go on for a page or two. When it goes over two pages, I’m definitely wary.
- Only one person speaks or talks about the thing. Maybe this is some teacher/authority figure or the narrator, but info-dumps usually leave no room for other characters to react.
- Lots of technical terms and jargon that have not been previously explained.
What I like:
- When it isn’t too long, I’m relatively okay with info-dumps. If it’s a few paragraphs compared to a whole page or two, I can easily read it and continue on without being disrupted.
- They can be interesting if it’s a subject that I like reading about, like some technologies or how groups interact.
What I don’t like:
- They can be really boring. Like I said, some info-dumps can read more like textbook material rather than an actual narrative.
- They can take me out of the story. Let’s say I’m cruising about and exploring the world in the book, I really like it and it feels like I’m discovering the culture. All of a sudden a wall-of-text info-dump comes out at me. It’s like driving down a scenic road and being stopped by a wall that requires you to read it before going on.
- It can seem like a weird shoe-horning of information, just to show the author’s research skills. Like when I was in the middle of reading a book about fantasy creatures, I didn’t expect to be hit with a wall-of-text about real-life martial arts.
- When an info-dump is less world-building and more of “omg this character is so hot/sexy/awesome/smart and let me go on about how great they are and how everyone loves them.” Nope. No. Sorry.
Trying to put aside the info-dumps, what are some alternative ways an author can get their world-building out and still be interesting?
- Dialogue! Two characters talking, having a back-and-forth banter/discussion about the world would help. It works well too if one of them is from another culture, and makes comparisons to their own.
- Have the main character explore and learn! Instead of having them just sit in a room and listen to someone talk, have them go out and experience the culture through interacting with the locals.
- Musical number. Just picture it. MUSICAL NUMBER WITH TAP SHOES.
So, what about you, dear reader?
What are your thoughts on info-dumps? What do you think is a good alternative to them?
Let me know in the comments!