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July 22, 2009

Infodumps (What the Hell Are Those?)

One of my pet peeves when I'm reading a book is what's called the "infodump." This is when the author takes a page or two (or sometimes even three!) to explain some concept or some part about the world that he/she's created that the pacing of the novel comes to a complete standstill. Say, for example, the characters are trying to infiltrate a steel factory and the author then stops to give you a blow-by-blow account of how steel is made before finally getting back to the action.

That is an infodump, basically the dumping of wholesale information into the reader's head without any regards to plot, pacing, or character. This can even happen in television/movies, except that the writer has to reveal it through dialogue. Often, that means one character explaining something to another one and thus to the audience as well. Sometimes it's even stupidly done by having it explained to a character who already knows this information.

Typical of this is when the character starts by saying "As you know..." It's like two engineers talking to each other about an engine problem. "As you know, Derek, if the coolant level drops to a certain point, the entire thing will melt." Just once, I'd like to see a look in the other character's eyes that says "I already know that, asshole."

Some authors are known for this sort of thing. For military SF fans, David Weber is notorious for the infodump, not to mention going into such great detail as to say something like "the ship fired 1,820 missiles at the opposing cruiser, but the cruiser's blast shield stopped 1344 of them." Still, his books sell, so I guess they're not written for me.

As readers, I'd love to know what kinds of pet-peeves you have in the books you read. Some of them can be genre-specific (infodumps are far more common in SF, where the writer often has to create a world from scratch). Others may be universal.

Leave a comment and let me know.


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