Sometimes it's really bad...
Jemi clawed at the earth above her, desperate to escape before the air ran out. She'd never liked getting her nails dirty, even though her dad was an incredible gardener and she'd grown up digging in the dirt. His tomatoes always won top prize at the county fairs. And his petunias? Priceless.Sometimes it's even worse and doesn't even have that first sentence to draw you in...
Jemi had never liked getting her nails dirty, even though her dad was an incredible gardener and she'd grown up digging in the dirt. His tomatoes always won top prize at the county fairs. And his petunias? Priceless.Blech! Can't write any more! :)
I love RC's definition of an Info Dump: Halting the momentum of a story to lay out a large chunk of information. If the information is critical to the story, it should be woven in as skillfully as possible.
Skillfully weaving in backstory isn't as easy as it sounds. We have to give the reader enough information so they feel connected to the main character. If the reader doesn't connect, he or she isn't going to stick around to see what happens.
On the flip side, if we give too much information all at once, it grinds the story to a halt (see the hideous example above). Hopefully in the first example, the reader wants to know why Jemi is buried and how she's going to get out. No one cares about tomatoes, or her nails, or her dad. Even if that information is vital to the story (maybe the neighbour, crazy from all those 2nd place ribbons, has planted her to get back at her dad), all of this can wait.
Sprinkle the needed backstory throughout the first few chapters. Only reveal what you really must reveal, and only when you really need to reveal it.
There's nothing wrong with writing out all of your backstory so you know it. As writers, we have to know every aspect of our characters. We have to know how they're going to act & react. And we have to know why. So, go ahead, write them out, put the info in a file. Just don't put it all in the story! Pick and choose those details. Which ones does the reader really need to know?
So, how DO you include the pieces of information you need?
Weave. Sprinkle. Tease. Hint. Show. Entice.
Use dialogue, as long as the character isn't relaying information the other character(s) would obviously know. Include a few hints in the setting and descriptions. Use internal dialogue—sparingly—to let us see the character's motivation.
And remember—we don't need to know everything all at once. Just enough to tease us into wanting more!
So, do you have trouble with info dumps? What's your biggest challenge with them?