When you’ve gotta go, you’ve gotta go!

Is there any place for info dumps in fantasy fiction?

Ah, here I am treading on the toes of another writing pseudo-rule. I should mention that ninety-nine percent of the time, avoiding info dumps is a recommendation I follow. I believe spouting reams of information at the reader in direct address takes them out of the story, and when done ad nauseam, becomes tedious.

Rise of the Loremaster,’ the first book in ‘The Arisendia Chronicles,’ opens with the city of Falinor under siege. While I launch straight into the action, it soon became apparent offering a simple city description while providing my readers an outline of its defenders and their origins from the outset (the basic kingdom make-up of Olandra) would enhance their experience. It would also help them grasp important, ongoing diplomacy without resorting to endless dialogue between multiple parties. Dialogue which could feel contrived under such pressing circumstances.

I’m a big fan of ‘show, don’t tell.’ I could’ve bumbled along for several chapters at the start, ‘showing’ the siege build-up and various kingdom relationships without ‘telling’ the reader anything. YAWN. Instead, I opted to jump in like a sports commentator addressing latecomers to a game with the state of play. An elementary city description was required, regardless. I simply tucked a few extra nuggets of information alongside it.

In the first draft I let myself go to town (pun intended), realising I’d lay a metaphorical axe at the tree root through multiple rounds of editing. When it came time for this literary lumberjack to roll up his sleeves, I applied three considerations:

  1. Does the information presented add value to the immediate scene?
  2. Is there any irrelevant minutiae included which I can cut and introduce at a more gradual pace throughout the story, if at all?
  3. Can any of it be removed and scattered throughout the chapter via appropriate situational action/dialogue?

Sure enough, I halved the relevant text, stripping it back to a bare minimum and tweaking chapter elements elsewhere. Next, I tried reading and re-reading the opening chapter with and without the extra information. As a result, I’ve kept my well-trimmed description/dump. Horror of horrors for the legalistically minded. I’m sure some twit will decry this in a crappy review that’s all about them and not the book. Talk to the hand…

Is there any place for info dumps in fantasy fiction? I’d say: weigh up the pros, cons, and execution, while giving careful thought to alternatives. Generally, I avoid them. In this case, ‘better in than out’ proved my preferred choice. Or, given the banner image for this post and the fact we’re talking about ‘dumps,’ that should probably read: ‘better out than in.’

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