Show, Don’t Tell: Avoiding the “Information Dump” in Fiction

28March

Show, Don’t Tell: Avoiding the “Information Dump” in Fiction

The key to good fiction is giving your readers a reason to keep going – little mysteries and mini-conflicts that add suspense and create tension. After all, if you feel like you know everything about a character in the first few pages, is there any real reason to waste time finding out what will happen to him?

Here’s what I mean:

Pete works at a pharmacy. He’s in his mid-twenties and he loves Asian cuisine and professional wrestling. He lives with his mother, but he wants to move out on his own when he saves up the money. He likes a girl at work named Myrna, but he’s afraid to ask her out on a date.

This is critical stuff: We have hints of a few conflicts (Pete is shy, but he’d like to go on a date with a coworker; Pete wants his own apartment, but he can’t afford it right now), and we know a little about his interests and goals. But, it’s dull, dull, dull. It’s an information dump – in a rush to introduce Pete, we’ve put our readers into a coma.

This one’s a little better:

Pete set down his plate of teriyaki and stared at Myrna from across the break room. Even dressed in her white, polyester lab coat (everyone who worked at the pharmacy was required to wear one), she was stunning.

I wonder if she likes wrestling, Pete thought. I’ve got two tickets to next week’s match. Maybe I should just ask her out. Just as friends. Oh, who am I kidding? I can’t even afford my own place – who wants to go out with a guy that still lives with his mother?

Myrna looked up and met his gaze. Pete snatched a newspaper and opened it to a random page, trying to look casual. That’s when he saw the advertisement: “Wrestlers needed for amateur match. Saturday night. First prize $5,000.”

The hints of conflict in the first version have become specific questions: Will Pete ask Myrna on a date? Will he put on tights, get in the ring, and win first prize? Focus on showing –revealing details through a character’s speech, thoughts, and actions – rather than simply telling the reader what’s important.

Posted by Stephanie  Posted on 28 Mar 
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