#6 Information Dump DisorderYou are cursed. Yes, you. Being so familiar with your story that you forget to include details the reader needs to know is referred to as the curse of knowledge. It sets you up for information dump disorder, a common malady that afflicts a writer with the urge to spew details about plot, characters, and backstory into unnatural dialogue.
Wait! What? How does one come from the other?
Withholding information because we don’t realize what readers need to know is the other side of this particular coin. After writing along merrily, it might occur to us that certain details are absent from the plot. Maybe the villain never made it clear she’s a misunderstood genius. Or the hero forgot to mention his real motive is to free his kidnapped child. And that awesome plot twist at the end of the book needs more set up.
In cases like this, dialogue makes an easy target. Slipping a few words into a conversation is a lot less painful than working in a scene somewhere. This tactic can be useful if done well. More often, a character’s speech comes off as wooden. Where a writer shoehorns loads of information into dialogue, the pacing slows readers to a crawl. Of course, that assumes readers stick around.
Symptoms of Information Dump Disorder
- Characters discuss things to which they are already privy with no clear reason for the conversation.
- Important details suddenly pop up in dialogue, invading the plot like unwelcome house guests.
- Action grinds to a halt as the heroine emotes about her past misfortunes, and then spontaneously resumes.
- Characters speak of things they wouldn’t normally mention given their circumstances within a scene.
Curing Information Dump Disorder
Note the purpose of each scene in your story and the things you want to reveal within it before you write it or at least before editing (for seat-of-the-pants writers). Consider what your characters need to know at each juncture and also what your audience should be made aware of. Reveal information at the point of interest for your reader.
As you edit, question everything and watch for places dialogue drags.
It helps to read your story aloud, or else have it read to you. A good resource is the free text-to-speech tool in Adobe Reader. Listen for anything that sounds stilted and unnatural.
Submitting your writing to a critique group can help you pinpoint trouble spots as other writers weigh in with valuable first impressions.
Some Final Thoughts
Paying attention to what readers need to know as you write works details in naturally. Plotting your novel in advance makes this easier. It’s hard to guide someone else when you aren’t sure where you are going. If you write by the seat of the pants, watch for signs of information dump disorder as you edit.
Next time we’ll cover dialogue writing mistake #7: Talking Heads Syndrome.
Go to dialogue writing mistake #5: Everyone Sounds Alike Dialogue.
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