If there’s one thing that every writer seems to suffer from at some point, it is the menacing shadow of the dreaded info dump. It’s tough to find the careful balance between prose and in-depth explanation when it comes to answering the age-old question: how much is too much?
As far as revealing background information, world building, or history, we definitely don’t want to leave our readers feeling confused and unable to keep up in the world in which the story takes place. Alas, sometimes we swing the other way completely and overwhelm our readers with huge blocks of text. These jumps can be jarring for one and, worse still, they can leave a reader feeling bored. And a bored reader is one who puts down a book and may never finish it.
There has to be a middle ground somewhere, right?
The key, I have found, is prioritizing information. What are the most important facts that the reader needs to get started on the story? Focus on these, and only these, for the first few pages of the novel (or, in the case of short stories, the opening section). Instead of front-loading your readers with valuable information, make an effort to spread it out through the text.
Have characters discuss past events (but do try to avoid the, “As you know,” talks), weave background or cultural references throughout the narrative, and be sure to show us how your world works – don’t tell. Avoiding the pitfalls of info dumping is one of those small but crucial efforts that makes the difference between a messy manuscript and a novel that’s ready for querying.