How Much Story is Considered too Much? Walls of Text vs. Brief Snips

Most of what I write is fiction, set in their own story rich worlds, which means explaining a lot about that world to the player. However, how much story is acceptable before it seems like the Player is no longer playing a game, but is instead reading a digitized novel.

I like the Dragon Age way of giving the player info. You collect info throughout your journeys where it is then compiled into a Codex-like journal. Of course, half of this information is unnecessary, but it is still there if the player needs or wants it. Basically the more information given to the player, the more accessible that information needs to be.

I’ve tried to have it both ways – readers can choose up front to be taken to the “codex” or pick it up from context over the course of the story (which is entirely how I personally prefer my fantasy – exposition in no more than single-sentence chunks would be ideal, with as much as possible left to be inferred from context).

I think the best rule of thumb is whenever the player becomes aware of the fact that they are specifically being given information about the world, that’s where it becomes a problem. Different players have different levels of awareness, and therefore will get pulled out of the story by different things, but the more information that is separate from the narrative of the story itself, the less a player will care about it and the whole thing in general.

I would argue, that in interactive fiction, great walls of text are not a good idea. If I want a wall of text the aren’t hard to find.

Most of the CoG official and hosted games here strike the ideal balance imo. The only ones I stay away from are those with main characters that are gender locked to male.

I agree with haven stone, I’d rather read 10k words of history if I could.

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In addition to what is already being said, I think the amount of text people will tolerate depends on what genre you’re writing in. If you’re writing a crime drama or something, people aren’t reading it for a detailed explanation of how a boarding school functions or the history of a particular hat. If you’re writing a fantasy or sci-fi though, half the fun is learning about a new world that is dissimilar to our own, so people enjoy the explanations.

In both cases though, it is imperative that you find ways to work the details into the action of the story. Nobody wants to read an info-dump longer than a paragraph or two, after all. As far as examples go, I do like Havenstone’s method of giving the player a choice, and the aforementioned dragon age method. If you are going to do a codex type thing (in one of my wips, I have a library the player can visit), it becomes more important to keep things brief. The only stuff you should fully explain should be things that are direly important to the plot, and again, you should find a way to work that into the action of the plot anyway.

Summation: If what you’re writing is important, readers will understand and probably enjoy reading it even if it is long. If what you’re writing is miles of text about things that will hardly matter come a few pages, you should probably cut things.

I’ve seen four successful ways in which authors have managed to get people to learn more about their setting.

  1. The Terry Pratchett info dump: If you feel you have to use infodump moments to explain some of the more complicated aspects of your world, you can make the experience more tolerable (and even enjoyable) by adding in bits of humor. This is most common in speculative fiction where it can be difficult to continue a story without stopping to explain something important. Keep in mind that this is not a style that everyone enjoys though.

  2. Codexes, footnotes, and endnotes: These are all methods of adding info to a story without forcing it upon the reader. Each page of a codex can store a large amount of info, but readers are unlikely to read all codex pages. That means that they aren’t useful for telling people about things they really need to know. Footnotes/endnotes, unlike codexes, need to be kept short. However, readers are more likely to read footnotes/endnotes, and so they can hold slightly more important info. In fiction. Foot/endnotes are typically used to allow a narrator of a story to add their own comments to a work without upsetting a story’s flow. The notes can be anything from humorous thought about something that was brought up, to a quick note about the details of some fantastic beast. Codexes are generally for large infodumps to provide explanations and info for the curious.

  3. Explaining things as you go: Arguably the best and hardest way to provide info. This method is to have aspects of the story sprinkled carefully so that it doesn’t interrupt flow, but the reader manages to learn about the world regardless. It relies heavily on the use of “show, dont tell”. Instead of telling the reader about something’s background, have it shown through the characters thoughts, words, and actions. This is typically the ideal way to convey crucial information, and often a useful tool to describe characters/settings.

  4. Mr/Mrs Exposition: Normally this can be a pretty darn dangerous way to provide info. However, in gamebooks we can allow the player to ask questions, and this allows for the exposition to come across more naturally. It can also easily be skipped in subsequent playthroughs via the “I have no more questions” option. The only problem is that really important info shouldn’t be put in these because they can still be ignored.

I think the basic rule of designing articles is applicable here.

I don’t mind walls of text if they’re broken into relevant paragraphs. A long, windy, purple prose paragraph that goes on and on is not only visually intimidating but hard to swallow and process.
For me, a digitized novel is fine. Just break it up and keep it visually clean and your story will flow a lot better overall.

For example, you were talking about world building–if you’re going to write a section about a royal family, for example, you wouldn’t want to include the entire family history in a single paragraph. You’d break it up into relevant sections based on events, and if necessary, go into sub-paragraphs to further delve into the subject.