Maybe I’ve just been unlucky, but about half the books I’ve started lately have been replete with “info dump” right at the beginning.

In case, you’re not familiar with the term, it’s dumping a lot of back story into the first few chapters of a book. Most of the time it’s boring and information we as readers don’t need to follow the story.

Now I’m not against back story. It’s necessary, but a writer can drown us with pages of it, or she can weave it throughout the story. Hint: dialogue can be a good way to fill in the reader without boring us to death (or deletion of the book).

I’d like to say it’s mostly a new author problem, and most of the books that have been annoying me have been early career books. I do understand how it can be an issue in the early days. Several years ago, I submitted one of my first novels to a critique group, and they tore me apart with INFO DUMP written at the top of many pages. At the time, I didn’t understand the problem or how to fix it. I do now, and I’m working on revising the book in question. (The group was spot on, by the way.) However, at least one of the books I started reading recently was by an established author who definitely should have known better. And even when the author makes the mistake, an editor should pick it up and send it back for revision.

Authors and editors need to be particularly sensitive to it now. With e-book samples, readers can try before they buy. You’re far more likely to snag a reader with an exciting action scene than with several pages of questionable exposition.

So that’s one of my big pet peeves (the other being bad point of view switches). What about yours?


  1. It’s all in how it’s done. Brandon Sanderson and George Martin do it brilliantly. However, a romance writer giving us the history of her character’s marriage in the middle of the opening love scene? Not so good.

  2. I’m starting to HATE the trend to serial books needing the dreaded INFO DUMP. They seem to over 600 pages each (much too wordy) and are a pain to read except in ebook formats (which seem to never get published). SciFi is the worst offender.

  3. You describe INFO DUMP as something dark and scary in the corner to be weary of. But you don’t give examples. Sometimes background is done poorly, sometimes it creates a good foundation.

    At the opposite end, so far as I know there is no term for it (there should be), but some writers tend to drop the reader into a story and just run with it, eschewing detailed character history or world-building. I can’t tolerate those kind of books. Leviathan by Scott Westerfeld comes to mind. I only read the sample, but the story moved along way too fast for me to enjoy: it needed more information and development. Granted: it may not have been better as an INFO DUMP, but it couldn’t be worse then SPEED BALLING story.

  4. I do think there is an increasing temptation to abandon “show, don’t tell” in favor of the lazier method of rattling off a bunch of details or back story so they won’t have to home their characters. It seems to me a well written character gives all sorts of back story. I like Charles Dickens, but I love Ernest Caldwell. I think Donald Pollock does an excellent job of weaving a bit of backstory into his fast paced short stories. But I also think it’s true that people who like genre fiction tend to like lots of backstory, that’s part of what they are looking for. Just give me the story and spare me the minutiae. If a story will get me started I can imagine the rest.

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