How to Sprinkle Background Info into Your WIP

Photo credit: glassghost on Flickr
Once upon a time I wrote a post on how to avoid writing info dumps, and while I discussed the importance of sprinkling information gradually over the course of a MS, I didn’t really cover the how as far as spreading out said information goes.

So here we are.

Revealing history and/or background information in your WIP can be tricky—if you reveal too much at once, it’s an info dump, but if you don’t reveal enough, readers may be left with a lot of questions, or the world of your novel may come off as flat and unfinished. The right amount is somewhere in between, and oftentimes it takes quite a bit of tweaking to get it right.

The good news is there are several methods that you can use to sprinkle in whatever information you need to convey without dumping it all at once:

  • Dialogue. This one is pretty easy. Your characters are having a conversation, and whatever background information you’re trying to convey comes up. Maybe it’s a bit of world history, or information about one of the characters (or another character), or something else entirely. Whatever you choose, just make sure it sounds natural—your character shouldn’t start spouting off pages upon pages of world history in mid-conversation, no matter how relevant. The key here is to use as little as possible to convey what you need. 

  • Thoughts. Similar to dialogue, all this requires is your POV character thinking about the background information you want to convey. Of course, this only works if your POV character knows the background information. But even if he/she doesn’t know, this could be a way to start making your readers wonder about said information by having your POV character think about it. 

  • Relate to current scene. If you’re writing in first person, then this most likely is going to happen within your POV character’s thoughts. In third person, however, this can sometimes work as a sort of related aside. For example, when describing a certain building, you may, if relevant, mention a little about the history behind the building, or the area, or a certain aspect of a building (for example, a statue or architectural aesthetic). Again, brevity is your friend here.  

  • Flashbacks. Flashbacks are often a favorite, but they should be used with caution. While they’re absolutely wonderful for showing us some of your character’s background without info dumping, flashbacks can sometimes be jarring to the reader. The key here, is to choose the right place to put them, and not use them too often. A few flashbacks are okay—twenty in one WIP are not recommended. 

So those are just a couple methods to sprinkle background information into a MS, but now I want to hear from you—what methods do you know of for revealing background information gradually? 

Twitter-sized bites: 
Struggling to reveal background information without info-dumping? Writer @Ava_Jae shares some tips. (Click to tweet)  
Writer @Ava_Jae shares four methods for revealing background information without info-dumping. Have you used these? (Click to tweet)


Elle said...

Great suggestions! Thanks for this--I've been struggling with info dumps in my writing lately. This is going to help me balance it much more. Now I just have to decide what I should not share with my readers...

Ava Jae said...

Thanks, Elle! I'm very happy to hear that you found the post useful! Best of luck with your writing! :)

Cassie Watson said...

I'm lucky in that my WIP is a dual POV, and the characters meet during the course of the book, so I can have them relay previous events in their life to each other. Of course, the tricky part is to make it seem natural - I recently wrote a scene where one character is let down by someone she trusted, so the other character explains her relationship with her family and how that has led her to become wary about relying on people. It's still coming across as a bit of an info dump, so I may have to work on it!

Ava Jae said...

Hmm, yeah. As I said in the post, brevity is really key, especially if that kind of information is being revealed through a conversation. If your characters start monologging, you'll probably need to make some cuts.

Cassie Watson said...

Yeah, after reading it again I think it'll need some editing. Thanks for the advice! I appreciate that you reply to everyone and are always happy to help out :)

Ava Jae said...

You're very welcome! I'm very happy for the opportunity to help! Good luck with your edits! :)

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