Writers must deal with a paradox when they work to make their fiction realistic. On one hand, the reader needs to have enough information about the story’s world that they can picture the scenes as they unfold. On the other hand, the reader also expects characters to talk like they live in that world and refrain from making long speeches about basic information.
Those of us who enjoy campy movies are familiar with the awkward, stilted effect created when a character explains facts that the other characters already know. In these moments of clumsy exposition, known as “info dumps,” the character’s speech becomes detached from the rest of the dialogue; while the words may be nominally directed at the other characters, they are useful only to the reader. Not only is the flow of the narrative disrupted in an awkward expository speech here, but the speaker also veers dangerously close to the “fourth wall” between the story’s world and the reader.
The easiest and most common way to avoid info dumping is simply spreading out your story’s exposition. Important facts about your world can be casually mentioned here or there when they flow naturally into a conversation. This happens all the time in real conversation, and this technique will provide your reader with a pleasant and interesting introduction to your story’s world. Mastering the placement of these expository snippets takes some time and practice, but your writing will be less awkward and more sophisticated as a result.
Authors in all genres must strike a careful balance when writing exposition. Too little information can leave a reader confused and bored with the story. Too much information at once, however, can produce an uncomfortable and stilted result that disturbs the world’s realism. Learning how to spread out your exposition in brief, well-placed snippets is critical to finding this balance.