G R Matthews
Bored of information
I hate Info-Dumps…
You’ve all thought it, haven’t you? Come on, be honest. You’ve had that heart sinking moment when you are reading a book and a new character appears in the narrative and…
She crashed through the window, shards of glass and splinters of wood scattering across the floor of the Dog and Duck Inn. The customers had one chance to look up, to see the shadow of the raven before she landed in their midst, daggers drawn and already seeking the heart of her victim.
Raven was short, barely over five feet and had received her name for the long dark hair that swept around her face. She had affected dark clothes and black cape to go with the name, to heighten the fear she struck into her victims, and there he was. (Not great, but not too bad so far is it? And then…)
The Dog and Duck, the location of her mission tonight, was an old establishment having been first opened by Osrig the Old back in the early years of the reign of King Murftel, some three hundred years ago. Osrig had been old, just as his name suggested, and had once been an adventurer. That is how he made his money and how he could afford the Inn. A tall man, over six and half feet during his days of adventure, his back had bowed with age and the only weapon he could wield, upon opening the inn, was his walking stick. The patrons soon learned to fear that stick because though his back was bent, his arms were strong.
The beer was said to be the best in the whole city of Yekstaleford. In fact, people would travel from many leagues just to taste the beer of Osrig the Old. Legends said he stirred it with the scale of dragon he had slain when was an adventurer. This was not true, he had been lucky to escape the encounter with the dragon with only a few scars and burns. The rest of his group had not been so lucky. When Osrig had staggered into the village, the very same that had commissioned the services of his group, it was with tears in his eyes. Helterg the Knight, his oldest friend, had been roasted in his armour. The man’s screams were loud in his ears and memory strong in his mind.
Woah! Hang on… who is this story about? What’s happening with Raven? Why has she crashed through the window and not come in through the door? Who is her target? Why is she going to kill them?
Osrig? That’s three hundred years ago and do we really need to know all about his adventuring days? I don’t care. I bought the book to learn about Raven not Osrig and … hang on… if I skip three pages the author is still waffling on about Osrig’s beer and his adventuring days.
What was that creak and fluttering noise? I’ll tell you, it was the window opening, the book spinning through it and out onto the streets below.
I have had the opportunity to read a lot of books recently. Not just because I enjoy reading, but also because the Amazon ‘look inside’ feature lets you. It is a great way of testing out a book. Reading a few chapters to get the feel of the book, of the writing and of the story, is a nice way to spend some time. You’d do the same in Waterstones or your independent bookshop of choice. Why not use the tools that Amazon gives you to do the same? And with the rise of Self-Published books it is a nice way to sort out the ones you want to read from those you don’t.
You see an info-dump, you run a mile. They’re boring. They don’t move the story forward. They lack action and they don’t create character. It is a bit like finding a Wikipedia page in the middle of the novel and it’s all about the history of cabbage.
I hate them. I skip them, but then I run the risk of missing out on some information that is important later in the book.
Ah-ha! You say. You shouldn’t have skipped it then should you.
Well, yes, but all I needed to know was that Osrig built a trapdoor at the back of the inn. By the time that nugget of information was divulged, I was sleep reading, skimming, looking for the re-start of the story. And… and… if the location of the bloody trapdoor was so bloody important then let me find out through some other way. Hey, perhaps Raven did some research, breaking into a library or interrogating a serving girl/boy before she crashed in.
So, no, I shouldn’t have to read the Osrig’s Wiki page. I don’t care about Osrig… three bloody pages on his history and the scene in the inn will only be a chapter long. Osrig will never ever appear again.
I am reading to find things out. I don’t want to be told. I want to discover things as the character does. I want to be there with them.
She crashed in through the window and then what? Stopped and told everyone to hang on a moment whilst she googled, or unfurled a scroll – let’s try to maintain some sense of the medieval world we are in – to read all about Osrig. Is that what she did?
Of course she bloody didn’t – so why should we.
You want to convey information? Do it through the characters conversation, their actions, their interactions, the tasks they have performed. You really need to tell us something, do it in a paragraph and then get back to the story. And use those paragraphs sparingly.
I hate info-dumps. I’m sorry, but I do.
Actually, to be honest, I am not sorry.