Info dumping through dialogue is the same as regular info dumping, but the dialogue explains it.

Since an info dump is a simple explanation, with dialogue you need someone who knows the information, and someone who doesn’t. Here, the knowledgeable person tells the ignorant one (and the reader) whatever it is.

I seem to have misplaced my Eragon book, so I cannot quote the passage I want, but when I find it, I’ll change this. Anyway, in the beginning of Eragon, Brom tells the gathered people the story of the Riders. This whole story is a huge info dump, simply there to tell Eragon and the reader who and what the Riders where. This works the same way as a regular info dump, but in fact more complicated because of the characters required.

The information given could have been told over the course of the book, but instead, it makes Brom seem snobbish and arrogant, since we are told shortly after that the Empire kills anyone who tells the story.

If your main characters are one who would know everything new you have come up with, you’ll need to find a way to explain the rules to the reader. The best way is to show, don’t tell. When something happens, the actions the character or world takes will explain it to the reader. This works better than creating a one dimension character simply to tell the reader. It insults your reader, making you appear lazy and arrogant.

Of course, if a character (like a young child) is present, you can tell them some things. Since most children are ‘full of questions’, allow them to inquire about your world. If you have them asking questions, make sure they ask something the reader already knows, so it is realistic. Even then, don’t do it often.


  1. Carbon Copy on 28 October 2008, 09:23 said:

    If you have to give exposition, dialogue is a great way of doing it. What a character knows, and what the character chooses to tell, gives us a lot of information about that character’s personality while at the same time giving us important information about the world he or she lives in (and how much of that world he or she understands). This even allows you to muddy the water, and give exposition that is not actually true.

    By giving exposition through dialogue, you can also break the infodump into sections. Rather than having one massive block of text telling you the complete history of everything ever written by everyone, you can give the information as a conversation. Other characters can chip in with their viewpoints; characters can argue, or turn the conversation in new and interesting directions. The infodump becomes an interesting analysis of how the characters interact.

    Even the old trick of having a wise storyteller to recap events can be interesting – at least it beats giving a massive infodump in a prologue, or worse yet, dropping massive blocks of information at the point we are expecting the story to really get going.

    Furthermore, by giving exposition through dialogue, you present the opportunity to interrupt the exposition. The storyteller is halfway through his tale when he is assassinated, or he is suddenly attacked by goblins. This opens avenues for increasing the level of intrigue in the story. You can give the reader just enough information to keep the interest level up, without showing your entire hand. After all, if you are giving all your exposition as narrative, you have no excuse for holding back information, or providing information that is false.

    Of course, if you are going to break up your exposition, you need a good reason for doing it. In Eragon, Brom frequently withholds important information for no good reason whatsoever. This is not cleverly revealing facts as the story progresses, this is just infuriating the reader by creating barriers to information that would not be there in the real world. As always, writing is a balancing act, and you have to figure out when to give information, and when to drive your story with action.

    A good example of something that is exposition heavy yet works well is Terminator (I know, it’s a movie, not a book). Most of that film is exposition, with our time-travelling hero explaining to Sarah what’s going on. However, all of the exposition is broken up with action scenes. Infodumps often get interrupted by the terminator’s arrival. Lots of information is given while they are in the car, being relentlessly pursued.

  2. LucyWannabe on 28 October 2008, 09:30 said:

    Oh, very nice! I always have trouble with exposition sections in my stories—I either throw too much at a reader or not enough. This was a great read and got me thinking on how to improve that part of my writing for NaNo.

  3. Virgil on 28 October 2008, 15:52 said:

    Great stuff Carbon.

  4. Carbon Copy on 28 October 2008, 17:32 said:

    Thanks, Virgil.

    By the way, I agree with what you are saying in your article, and I would rather have found out more about dragon riders as the book progressed instead of being told the story by Brom.

    There are definitely risks with having a “know-it-all” character such as Brom. I think his ability to tell Eragon everything straight away, before Eragon even became a rider, weakened the emotional impact of the story. Basically, Eragon knew what he was letting himself in for very early on, rather than finding out as the story progressed.

  5. Virgil on 28 October 2008, 17:47 said:

    Yeah, I didn’t much like that. Especially since you could have put in ‘Jedi’ for ‘Rider’, and make the whole thing unpleasantly familiar.

    I wish I could ask Paolini how and why the Empire is evil, and how Galbatorix can be a king of an Empire.

  6. Jeni on 30 October 2008, 01:21 said:

    Ok piece, but, if I may be candid, I think it would have been better if you had waited until you had your Eragon book and some examples before uploading it.

    And then perhaps explore the issue a bit more, like CC elaborated on. Not that it’s a bad article, it just seems more… lacking, than usual.