Believe it or not, I’m going to keep this one brief today.
I told myself a few weeks ago that I wasn’t going to read while trying to edit the rest of my novel (ha!) because sometimes it becomes distracting or discouraging. But sometimes…I want to compare apples to oranges, you know? See what’s happening in other genres.
Infodumping in Historical Fiction
Despite what I told myself, I’ve been reading a couple of novels on an off (because apparently I don’t just sit down and read novels straight through anymore; I either think too much about them or they bore me before they can get on a roll…100+ pages into the story). Both are works of historical fiction with espionage elements in them because that’s what I’ve been craving of late, and I find myself getting frustrated because both do something that is highly frowned upon and typically attributed to the science fiction and fantasy genres: giving too much exposition at once.
And it’s not just any kind of exposition; it’s that tediously dry kind that seems to just carry on and on and on…because hey, it’s history-cal fiction and I have to tell you about the history of this setting, doggonit–even if it is done in the most boring/irrelevant manner ever.
Now, when a fantasy writer tries this it’s called “infodumping;” when a writer of historical fiction does it it’s called “lush period detail.”
Okay, maybe I’m just being cynical now. Or maybe I’ve just become an impatient reader. Or both. (Lord, help me.)
Personally, if I have to sit through more than half a page of information that seemingly has nothing to do with furthering the immediate situation at hand, then I’ll get bored. “Immediate relevancy” is kind of my litmus test as to whether certain information belongs in a particular scene–something I’m trying to live by in my own writing.
Key word “trying.” (Sometimes you just want to hold on to bits of info because you’ve somehow managed to make it all nice and shiny. Sometimes it’s just hard to let go of such golden nuggets.)
However, I’ve also come across longer stretches of information in novels that don’t bore me at all because they are told in a voice or manner that I personally think is interesting.
Anyhow, I get the feeling that labeling anything as an infodump is a partly subjective process because there aren’t a whole lot of quantitative guidelines out there (if any) and people always have different ideas about what’s interesting and what’s not. I’m curious about what others think of infodumping, so here’s my question(s) to you all:
In your opinion, what qualifies as “infodumping?”
What doesn’t? Is there a certain length or amount you just won’t put up with? That you will put up with?
Also, how do you gauge what stays and goes in your own writing when you come across something that just screams, or maybe even just whispers, infoduuuuuuump…?