When I work with writers, often the hardest news I have to deliver about their manuscript is “Cut, cut, cut, cut the info-dump.” That’s the term some people in the biz use to describe the excessive use of backstory/exposition. You know it when you see it–paragraphs or pages of information delivered passively to the reader. Information served up on a paper plate. Information that dulls the reader out of the dynamic narrative now.
When I say it’s difficult to tell writers they have to cut backstory that’s because they’ve usually spent hours, days, weeks getting those sections just right. They pull out the stops and the polish and the thesaurus to bring these passages to life–or at least to attempt CPR. But unless you are a staggeringly brilliant writer, beautifully crafted exposition still clumps statically on the page. It is telling, telling, telling. When agents reach info-dump that’s when they stop reading your book.
Don’t get me wrong, writers do want to use backstory and exposition in their stories–but the keyword is sparingly. You need to eek out the information and, whenever possible, reveal it dynamically, by choices made and words exchanged.
Literary agent Rachelle Gardner offers consistently useful information for writers on her blog. To learn more about the dreaded info-dump and how to transform it into lean, dynamic prose in your potential bestseller, visit her RANTS & RAMBLINGS.