Tuesday, January 10, 2012

Infodump =/= story

I enjoy short fiction a lot, besides not being a quick read, it allows writers to stretch their skills and experiment. However, some writers get so caught up in style and prose, that they forget to write the story itself. Embarrassing, no? And you'd expect a story like that wouldn't be publishable, because we tend to expect good stories to be published. Which is why it pains me to see infodumps being published as stories.

What is an infodump?

Well, it's when the narration comes to a full on stop and explains what's going on to the reader, often in a boring, derivative way that makes the reader put down the story. Yes, most fiction, especially speculative fiction, needs some explanation so the reader isn't confuzzled. But the way to do that is to show the reader how things work or what's going on, and then add a sentence or two of explanation. Not dump paragraph after paragraph of exposition.

But I'm noticing in short stories, usually flash, that the whole story is just one big steaming pile of infodump. Most common offenders are:

1) Child asks adult/grandparent/some old fart about X, like why do they celebrate X, or why are they here on X. Adult proceeds to explain in storyteller manner. Then the story ends. Possibility of someone dying, but other than that, nothing actually happens within the story.

2) Main character reminisces about the past and why things have come to this point. Story ends when narrator returns to the present. Once again, nothing actually happens. No conflict. Nadda. Character sketches would also fall under this.

I don't care if people write giant infodumps and try to pass them off as stories. But for them to be published? That's a slap in the face to writers who actually come up with plots and conflict. Hell, even a vignette has something going on. And that's what I want as a reader: something to happen.

Let's put it this way: Would you read an entire novel where nothing happened? Of course not. So why would you read a short story, no matter how short, that had nothing going on?

I'm not talking about style or how well written it is -- and this is why I think a lot of these infordumps get published, because they read pretty. The description on the back of my shampoo bottle is well written and has style -- should that be considered a story?

But in the end, it's the editors' money, and they can throw it at whoever they please. However, if said editors are trying to sell magazines or anthologies, and what they showcase on their site are infodumps disguised as stories... well, I dunno about you, but I certainly wouldn't purchase anything from their selection. 'Cause you know, I like to be entertained when reading, not bored to tears. 

If you can somewhat relate to defcon's frustrations, or like to read her rants, check out Where's the Story?


  1. Amen! This is an area where I struggle - I want the reader to know everything I do. But that's more for me than for the reader, as are the first 50 pages of most first-time writer's books. Now I'm putting my vanity aside, trusting the reader, and making something happen. Thanks for a great post!

  2. It's such a fine line. Most of my rejected stories are accompanied by an editorial comment to the effect that I didn't explain enough. What about leaving some things for the readers to figure out for themselves? Maybe I just go too far in avoiding the info-dump...

  3. @Sheila - Yeah, that's always the difficult part of writing is not gushing about your world, despite how awesome it is. Good luck with your endeavors!

    @Milo - Nah, I'm talking about stories that are PURE infodump. I'm fine with a sentence or two explaining things, but when your whole story is one big explanation - eck!

    And personally, I like it when stories don't explain it all and allows you think ponder what's going on. Those are fun, and I remember those types of stories for much longer.