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February 25, 2012
Posted at 11:17 pm

Not Too Much and Not Too Little, But Juuuust Right

Whenever I'm reading a story, and the description of the set up goes on and on, I get really bored. I've learned here that the name for this style of setting the scene is called an 'info dump.' Even if pared down to only essential elements, an info dump can drive readers away in fatigue or just loss of interest.

However, I find the opposite style of story telling to be worse, and by that I mean not cluing in the reader on the supporting back story until the second or later chapters, or sometimes, never explaining the underlying premise at all. Will the reader always get it on their own? One can always skip ahead over info dumps, but a story without a foundation usually forever leaves you hanging and unsure of what the heck is going on. If a story doesn't start to make sense for me within at least the first chapter, I will not continue to struggle on with it. No, I'm out of there, and within just a few pages most of the time.

What works best is when the explanatory words are woven into the action. Instead of saying, "She saw herself in the mirror," provide a backdrop with, "The reflection of the old, cracked mirror showed her standing framed by the rough cabin walls of her home." This phrasing can suggest the character has her own home, and lived a long time ago, or doesn't have much money, or collects antiques, or the like, whatever fits the context of your story. The inclusive outlines provide the experience needed for understanding the whole at a glance without the jarring breaks of info dump styling, or the confusion caused by trying to follow the unmarked paths of the leave-them-clueless method.