What They Are and How to Avoid Them in Your Own Writing

Ah, the dreaded infodump, the bane of every writer’s (and reader’s) existence. So easy to write; so tedious to read; so difficult to weed out.

But what exactly is an infodump?

Depending on whom you ask, the gamut of definitions is quite extensive, ranging from “huge blocks of text that describe stupid shit” to “any copious concentration of description”.

For the purposes of this article, we’ll be defining infodumps as sections of text that detach a reader from the work in question through depicting things that are (1) not immediately relevant to the story or characters, (2) grouped together into easily-discernible sections, and (3) destroy or otherwise hinder the flow of the story, be it through a sudden leap in ideas or shift in the narrative tone, pacing, and/or style.

To rephrase, infodumps make it difficult for a reader to remain immersed in a story, be it through tedium, frustration, inconsistency, etc.

Infodumps come in several main flavors — description, exposition, opinion, and stylistic — but are all united in the fact that they result from an excessive concentration of said flavoring.


Description dumps are perhaps the most common type of infodump out there, and so are what immediately comes to mind for most people when they hear the word “infodump”. The most egregious examples of description dumps are scenery porn and character descriptions.


Inaina looked in the mirror. Her hair, which was luxuriant in its soft and smooth texture, hung around her face, framing it like a white, curly hood that partially hid her eyes like a mostly opaque and mysterious veil. Her deeply tanned skin stood out in stark contrast to the paleness of her hair, which brought out the plum color of her lips and beady eyes, once she brushed her hair out of the way. The dress she wore today was green, which clashed horribly with her complexion, and was ugly with how overwrought the embroidery, all gold and black and blue dragons in bruised and torturous poses, and frilly it was, with chiffon scrunched up into tight and heavily starched waves…

You get the picture.

Description dumps can also occur when the author attempts to describe every aspect of an action, such as a fighter’s shifting of stances; sensation, such as what magic feels like; or method, such as listing every action a magician performs in casting a spell.


The next most common type of infodump is the exposition dump. These more often than not read like history books, only drier, and often arise from the author’s fear that, if they don’t explain everything, the reader won’t appreciate the story. A specific subset of the exposition dump is the techdump, which explicates technological details and is prevalent in science fiction.


They selected one of the hydrocarbon-powered ground transports from the queue which waited outside the airport. The fee was small enough that it was not paid electronically, but using portable dollar tokens. The driver conducted his car unit into the city; though he drove only at 100 km/hr, it felt much faster since they were only a meter from the concrete road surface. — “Flight” or “If all stories were written like science fiction stories” by Mark Rosenfelder

Another ubiquitous form of the exposition dump is the “As You Know, Bob” conversation in which two or more characters engage in an obviously contrived exchange whose sole purpose is to impart information to the readers.

Exposition dumps are notorious for how long and boring they tend to be, and though they’re most often used to impart vital information concerning the plot (in comparison to the more often superfluous nature of description dumps), they tend to pack too much information into too small a space, which leaves no room for the entertainment value.


All hail the surprise soapbox!

You’re happily reading along when, without warning, there’s a rant set before your eyes, and as you read through it, all you can think is “Where the HELL did this come from?”

They can be short; they can be long and rambling; they can be contained within character dialogue or within the narration itself — what all opinion dumps have in common is that (1) they’re strongly opinionated, and (2) they just don’t feel like they belong in the story. As a result, taking the context surrounding opinion dumps into account is a bit more important than other forms of infodump in determining whether they’re egregious or not; they can be quite entertaining when done deliberately, especially when reinforcing characterization.


The cell phone plague now preoccupied humans on the island of Mospheira, a plague making them walk into traffic while in conversation that preempted their awareness of their surroundings; a compulsion that suddenly rendered them incapable of ignoring a phone call in the presence of actual people they should be dealing with. — Conspirator by C. J. Cherryh, p. 33, 2009 Hardcover

This lovely passage has been brought to you, in context, second-hand as the badly-framed opinion of a rarely-seen brother who, in context, is rather ignorant of the alien race’s customs and society in a rather inexplicable aside concerning the issue of introducing faster means of communication than letter-sending to said alien race who, in context, is so vastly different from humanity in the societal sense due to biology as a non-political reason to avoid instantaneous communications in a debate that is, in context, purely political at this point.

If that sentence there didn’t confuse you, then I have failed to impart my sheer bemusement at coming across this rather unexpectedly opinionated (and rather irrelevant) passage that is never touched upon again.


Stylistic dumps are not technically a type of infodump and tend only to be seen as such when read by those outside the intended audience. Period pieces and much genre fiction, when read by someone unfamiliar with the stylistic tropes associated with them, are often accused of being horribly infodumpy, much to the bemusement of readers who enjoy the style.

More than any type of infodump, the context and deliberateness is important in determining whether a stylistic infodump is problematic or not; it’s the difference between 18th century novels and their pastiches versus the work of an inexperienced writer.

Just as with anything, too much style leads to clunky prose, even where certain styles are expected. In most cases, this excess of style is manifested through one of the other three infodump types, though there are times when the writer’s style itself is the problem, especially if it is quite distinct.

Gregory Maguire, for instance, has a style I simply cannot stand. His word choice, syntax, and story structuring just plain annoy me with how clunky, rigid, and contrived they are, and there is no escaping his style should you read one of his works.

Combating Infodumps in General

So now that we know what infodumps are, how do we avoid them in our own writing?

1. Don’t stress about them in the first draft.

Weeding out infodumps is a job for the editing and rewriting stages; don’t allow your fear of writing them to prevent you from actually finishing the story.

2. Examine the density of information in each section.

The reason why infodumps are so noticeable is because they concentrate a lot of information into substantial chunks of text. Breaking this information up and interspersing it with actions and dialogue helps space out this information into more manageable pieces.

3. Examine the relevance of the information in each section.

Another reason why infodumps tend to be so noticeable is that the information contained within them (especially in the case of exposition and description dumps) is not immediately relevant to the story. So much word count is devoted to the information that it drowns out the immediate action, which stretches out the pacing like the clock stretches out the last minute of torture before the class bell rings, until the readers forget what it was that was going on that was interesting. And then they begin to skim.

So ask yourself, “Is this immediately relevant?” If so, keep it, but remember to space it out. If not, omit it, but do not completely delete it; you’ll find that your prose looks rather bland once all the extra information is removed, and you’ll want to save those extra details to add back in for flavoring, where appropriate.

Next, ask yourself, “Is this relevant later on?” If so, be sure to add it back in someplace natural and unobtrusive; you don’t want to be heavy-handed with your foreshadowing, after all.

Lastly, ask yourself, “Does it help establish the character and/or setting?” If so, it’s some pretty important flavoring that you don’t want to leave out. As always, be sure to space it out and place it appropriately.

4. Utilize vivid and precise language.

Why use a ton of weak words when a few strong ones will suffice? Using vivid and precise language cuts down on the word count spent dispensing information, which makes for a more streamlined reading experience. The less bulky your prose, the more accessible it is; the more accessible your prose, the more engaging it is; and the more engaging your prose, the more interested your readers will be in the information you share with them.

In addition, employing more vivid and precise language showcases your skill with the language, which inclines your readers to be more forgiving if you should happen to infodump.

Just be careful not to use language so precise, your readers are constantly sent running for a dictionary.

5. Establish a rhythm.

If you incorporate infodumps deliberately, perhaps due to stylistic conventions, do your best to establish a rhythm. Readers will enjoy prose that sounds and feels pretty, even though it may be horribly infodumpy under normal circumstances. Having a solid rhythm ensures that your writing, though densely packed with information, will still flow nicely, helping keep your readers immersed in the story instead of kicking them out of it with an abrupt change in pacing.

Tagged as: ,


  1. Spanman on 30 November 2011, 18:08 said:

    Great article, Kyllorac! You’ve given me the tools to get over my bad habit of using an egregious amount of exposition in writing. Finally.

  2. ZeeZee on 30 November 2011, 18:48 said:

    Great article! I think that the next time someone complains to me about editing their submission to the literary magazine, I’m just going to link them to this. You explain this far more clearly than I ever could.

  3. Fireshark on 30 November 2011, 19:52 said:

    I like this article. I’ll keep everything you said in mind, because my writing can get very info-dumpy. Probably because I like sci-fi so much, my main problem is what you call the exposition dump.

  4. Snow White Queen on 30 November 2011, 21:39 said:

    Great article. Your description of what an infodump actually is and how to deal with it was really helpful. However, it would have been helpful to quote some writing from Maguire so we’d have a better idea about stylistic dumps.

  5. WulfRitter on 30 November 2011, 21:43 said:

    Well done! This was definitely very thought-provoking and well-analyzed. While I don’t mind a well-written infodump, the emphasis is on the article “a” and the phrase “well-written”. If I notice the author has taken an infodump all over the pages, I’m done.

    Gregory Maguire, for instance, has a style I simply cannot stand.

    Amen, sister. Amen.

  6. BlueMask on 30 November 2011, 23:21 said:

    An excellent article. I do agree with SNQ, though. Some examples of stylistic infodumping would have been helpful. Apart from that, this was very helpful and informative.

  7. Kyllorac on 1 December 2011, 09:42 said:

    @SWQ and BM

    I was planning to until I realized I had nothing of his on hand, and considering I’ve misplaced my library card… >.>

    “Mirror Mirror” comes to mind as being an example in-and-of itself.

  8. swenson on 1 December 2011, 10:27 said:

    I’m thinking about my NaNo right now and… yeah, there’s quite a few exposition dumps. But I must say, I’m really glad you pointed out that it doesn’t matter so much in the first draft. Learning that first drafts will, simply by nature of what they are, suck has been an incredible tool for me as a writer. I still don’t like editing, but I’ve accepted it as a natural part of writing!

  9. Sweguy on 6 December 2011, 10:22 said:

    I agree on most parts, but gotta reject the

    4. Utilize vivid and precise language.

    I personally hate when authors expect one to run back and forward to a dictionary while reading. And if you use big words instead of smaller ones, how can the reading be more engaging? That just doesn’t make sense to me. If you use a language which everyone will understand, than things cant be more engaging than that. Or am I wrong?

  10. Kyllorac on 6 December 2011, 16:22 said:


    At the end of that section, I specifically say:

    Just be careful not to use language so precise, your readers are constantly sent running for a dictionary.

    In any case, it’s not a matter of using big words versus small ones; rather, it’s about using the best word for the situation. If the best words are simpler ones, then use those simpler words.

    Just keep in mind that, on the spectrum opposite of the constant dictionary-run is using language that is too simplistic. Doing so is a great way to annoy readers since they’ll feel like the writer thinks they’re too stupid to understand more varied language.

  11. Sweguy on 10 December 2011, 20:11 said:

    Well that I got to agree with you

    By the way, Inheritance has come out already. Where is the sporking on that? :P Waiting anxiously for it

  12. NeuroticPlatypus on 15 December 2011, 11:01 said:

    Great article, Kyllorac. Very helpful. I have to stop myself from using exposition infodumps sometimes.

  13. ScarletSpecter on 17 January 2013, 15:54 said:

    Kyllorac. All I can say is, THANK YOU!!! This easily falls into my Top 5 List of most obnoxious writing derps. Throughout Lord of the Rings and Dragonriders of Pern I really wanted to appreciate all the hard work and thought put into these worlds. But it was an absolute chore to slog through all the drawn out, superfluous details, so I felt guilty for my “low-attention span”.

    But, now I realize that it really isn’t hard work on the author’s part. It’s too easy (i.e. lazy) to just sum the entire thing up in a wall of text when you could incorporate it through subtle details in the actual world, itself. This is probably part of Harry Potter’s appeal. The wizarding world slowly unraveled before Harry and the reader as the story progressed. Rowling never went into excessive detail unless it was plot-related or background information. That way you really felt an interactive immersion into the environment, itself. This is why Harry’s world always felt so lived-in.