More than a few times I’ve put a book down because I reached a point―or many points, if I really gave the author a chance―where the author threw a mega-load of information at me all at once. The worst part about it was that it was usually through dialog―a crap ton of dialog, the kind where nothing else is happening―or it was something that the point of view character was thinking about which basically screamed “THIS IS ALL THE STUFF YOU NEED TO KNOW TO UNDERSTAND THIS STORY”. The alien weapon works like this, the big, bad machine will do this is we don’t destroy it, this is what the evil dude is like and these are all the evil things he is doing. BAM! Instant disconnection from the story. This dumping of information (AKA info-dumping) is one of the quickest, surest ways to pull a reader out of your story.
This is one reason why I have mixed feeling about prologues. Many prologues are just one big info-dump. So the history of your universe contains crucial information. Well, rather than starting your story with a chapter out of a history book, I feel that there are better ways to convey that information; more subtle ways to get the history of the universe, or whatever the information is you want to convey, across to the reader. Ways that may even prevent them from losing interest. If you find it difficult to weave into your story all the necessary information or would like to discover more ways to do this in less conspicuous ways, then some of the suggestions below may be of use to you.
1. Distract Your Reader
Write in some action with the information. If you’re conveying information via conversation then toss those characters into a fight or send them across the desert in a speedy, futuristic car. While your protagonist is fearing for their life in the passenger seat sneak that important information into the conversation. Wave a colorful scarf in one hand while you do the real work in the other. If you do need to get some information across to the readers then this helps make that part of it a little less obvious. Remember, you still need to take care not to put too much information in one scene, which leads me to my second suggestion.
2. Spread Out the Information
Give information to your reader on a need-to-know basis and you will almost never have to worry about info-dumping. By doing this you will not only avoid an info-dump, but will also add mystery to your story. This will help with many aspects of your novel; pacing, story structure, character development, etc…
3. Tell By Showing
Instead of explaining something through another person or your characters thoughts, why not have your point of view character experience that thing. Have them use a weapon or experience a place that your reader needs to know about . It’s much more thrilling to learn right alongside the POV character rather than being told about that certain thing.
4. Hide the Info In Plain Sight
In murder mysteries, many times the author will mention the murder weapon amongst other items early on in the novel. For instance, in describing a room, they might mention the important object in the middle of that description. Do the same with information. While Johnny is talking to Ted about the fishing trip he went on over the weekend with his dad, throw in that bit of important information about the lake that he went to or about his dads favorite knife that he used to gut the fish with. By doing this you are keeping the necessary information to a minimum. An added benefit is that your story won't be so predictable.
I’ve found that one of the fastest ways to learn an aspect of writing you’re having trouble with is by reading and analyzing the work of that author. So here is my challenge to you:
CHALLENGE: Examine one of your favorite novels and write down five to ten ways (that aren't info-dumps) that author conveyed information to their readers. Then, of course, implement some of those into your current novel or short story. Happy writing!