Info dumps?

Info dump sucks, but wiki goods.

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What about an info dump merged with an active talk with another character that you can not skip because there are things you need to know that are or will form part of the plot? (info dump placed after 50% of the game)

How very convenient! This last weekend I watched Brandon Sanderson’s 2020 Writing Course on Science Fiction and Fantasy, which is available for free on his YouTube channel I don’t know why! You can check it out here.

I highly recommend it, even though it’s 14 hours of class :hugs:. Keep in mind the course is for traditional novel writing and not for gamebooks, but there is a lot of overlapping. These are my notes on what Sanderson had to say about Info Dumps:


Info Dumps

The single most important skill for the sci-fi/fantasy genre is to convey information about the world in a way that is interesting and not boring. This, however, is not to say that it makes up for bad characters and bad plots.

What to do:

  1. Worldbuilding should service the story and the characters.

    • Convey information through the eyes of the character in a way that showcases their beliefs, personality, and worldview. As a side-effect, you end up communicating world info. In other words, instead of describing the world, show the characters reacting to the world around them.

      I really like these characters and look! Now I know a lot about Hogwarts.

  2. Give readers less than what you think they need. They generally need way less to keep up with the story than you think.

  3. Use the Pyramid of Abstraction.

    Think of a pyramid chart where the base is “concrete language” and the top is “abstract language”. The goal of your descriptions is to form the base of the pyramid—it is to ground the reader—so that when you start talking about things that are high level (magic, social rules, abstract concepts, etc) or you go inside a character’s head (feelings, monologues, etc), the reader won’t be pulled out of the story.

    For example, if you paint a solid picture of two characters walking down a street at the start of the scene, then when the characters start to argue about the definition of Art or their plans to fight the Bad Guy, the reader will still imagine these characters walking down the street. It grounds the scene. On the other hand, if the scene is not grounded prior to going into the abstract language, it will come off as the author preaching to the reader, because the reader doesn’t have a physical, three-dimensional idea of what’s happening.

What not to do:

  1. Encyclopedia Entry

    If you do include them, put them somewhere that won’t detract from the story, like in an Appendix. Do not rely on your reader checking the Appendices, any relevant information must be included in the main text.

  2. Maid and Butler Dialogue

    This is when two characters talk about or explain something they already know for the sake of the “audience”.


The next notes were more about Worldbuilding but I think it ties up with the second point of what to do.


Worlbuilding

From the three constituent parts of a good story (mentioned earlier), that is, Plot, Character, and Setting, the latter is the least important. Ideally, all three should be on point, but if a sacrifice must be made, let it be for Setting. A story with strong characters and an engaging plot, but which has weak worldbuilding, can still get away with it. However, it doesn’t hold true if you have fleshed out settings, but weak plots and uninteresting characters.

On that, another problem science fiction and fantasy writers might have is the “worldbuilding disease”, where the author spends all of their time worldbuilding and never actually starts writing, or if they start writing they’ll be tempted to cram into the story every nook and cranny they created for that world.

Worldbuilding should be used to enhance the story so that worldbuilding becomes an integral part of the story. Don’t make it a billboard on the readers’ way to the actual story.


Throughout the classes, Sanderson says a lot on the topic, directly or otherwise, but I’ll stop here or else I’ll end up posting all of my notes :joy:.

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I think the obvious way to avoid boring info dump is through showing, and not telling. Science fiction stories that are set in the future, don’t say that the gadgets are futuristic—they let the readers figure it out by themselves by showing it.

Make sure to display the information that is needed, and don’t be scared to leave things out. Just because there was a (hypothetical) war between fae and humans thirty years ago doesn’t mean we have to know everything about it. Give the details piece by piece. Scatter them, and maybe leave a bit of mystery. Readers don’t want to know every single thing about your world or whatever you want to show. Even if you’re anxious that the readers are too clueless, you just have to be patient.

And info dumps aren’t necessarily bad. In Lord of the Rings, there’s a ginormous info dump. Douglas Adams and Terry Pratchett use entertaining and interesting ways to info dump. Seriously, Discworld is so, so fun.

Understandable.

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That’s Tolkien’s way of flexing to us. He’s basically saying;

“Hey look, I created this cool world full of elves, dwarves, dark lords, dragons and other good stuffs. I also created an entire language for the giggles. Now praise my excellence!”


I generally don’t like info dumps, but they could be fun if done well.

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The ginormous info dump actually turned me off of reading the book series. Couldn’t make it through “On Hobbits”. The movie made it more bearable by illustrating the ring backstory with an action scene and illustrating the hobbit backstory with absolutely zero hobbit backstory whatsoever.

Even though fantasy stories existed before Tolkien, I think he was, single-handedly, responsible for consolidating it into a proper genre. Because of that, I’m willing to give him a pass. It’s also important to note that he wrote and published his books at a different time.

I’m not usually forgiving of Tolkien-ish info dumps. If I get bored I drop the book in a second. There’s just so much competition out there, so many books, tv series, movies, (not to mention real-life responsibilities) that writers can’t expect readers to sit tight as they expatiate on all of the ages and the family trees of this fictitious world they created.

So, my thoughts on infodumps are that I don’t really love them in and of themselves, but that the need to avoid them leads to more stayed worlds, worlds that don’t really feel like they have a history or purpose before the player character steps onto the stage. And that turns me off as a player.

Are there more immersive ways to convey worldbuilding? Absolutely, and many have been showcased here. But I would also argue that the feeling that lore dumps need to be avoided at all cost sometimes leads to the feeling that you can’t or shouldn’t have lore-rich worlds, to the detriment of the world and plot.

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Watch this video to know when info dumping is acceptable and how to do it properly.

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=HVkQifId0EA

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Bad info dumps are bad because they’re noticeable. Good info dumps are hardly ever noticed–as is the case with much of good writing.

Fortunately, writing skills can be refined through practice.

If a stat-accessible codex or an in-game equivalent exists purely to remind the player of terms and such that have already been explained, that’s fine. But info tossed into a codex or an in-game scrap heap rather than the game itself is anathema to me. Wading through something like that is tedious, and it means that the story isn’t pulling its own weight.

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