Worldbuilding? Infodumping? What does it all mean?!
Imagine you’re settling down with a brand-new book. Ah, bliss. Except when you open to the first chapter, you’re suddenly overwhelmed with irrelevant information about the dragon lore, kingdom history, and spacecraft design of the story’s setting! After all that info dumped on you, suddenly you want to put the book down and watch some mind-numbing TV.
Relevant especially to fantasy or sci-fi writers, infodumping occurs when a writer tries to cram too much information about the story’s universe into a short space. It’s a major reader turn-off, and a cardinal sin of writing.
But wait, you say. I’ve spent six months meticulously developing the 57 kingdoms and 9 moons of Planet Burgerjuice, and now you’re telling me the readers don’t care? Well, kind of. Readers don’t want to read paragraphs about 57 kingdoms and 9 moons, especially if the story only centers around one faction of one kingdom. Most worldbuilding, while special to the writer, is irrelevant to the story. However, some information is still critical.
So how can you develop an interesting, real-feeling world for your reader without boring them with the dreaded infodump? Here are 5 ways.
- Remember that the reader only cares about the story. They didn’t pick up your book because you promised them a detailed history of all 57 kingdoms of Burgerjuice. They picked it up because the edgy protagonist’s problem with her talking squirrel intrigued them (terrible example, but humor me). Before adding any worldbuilding to your story, ask yourself if it’s necessary. Worldbuilding should always either add to the character or advance the plot. Remember, your world is just the stage for your story. Audiences don’t attend plays to admire the stage. They come to cheer on heroes, boo villains, and get lost in the story’s action. Always keep the story at the center of your book.
- Confuse some characters. Victor is from Earth, and he has no idea how he just got transported to Burgerjuice – or why he’s suddenly in the body of a talking squirrel. No doubt he’s going to have questions, and the necessary lore of this new world will have to be explained to them. Sometimes called reader surrogates, these confused characters allow a writer to introduce their world to both characters and readers at the same time. This way, the reader is interested in the character’s adaptation to the new world, and you can use dialogue to explain necessary worldbuilding. The point of these characters is to ask all the questions the reader has about the world without overwhelming the audience with an infodump.
- Use figurative language to develop your world. Consider the following: “The Kingdom of Bigdragon was renowned for having the iciest winters of the 57 kingdoms.” Now, how about this? “Tangerina Truitt had a heart as cold as a Bigdragon winter.” Now readers know about that horribly-named kingdom’s winter, but they also know about the character’s personality. Craft metaphors, similes, even snarky insults to compare recognizable things to aspects of your fictional world. Is Victor as stupid as a Bigdragonian? Now we know that the Kingdom of Bigdragon is renowned for more than just its cold winters, but we also know that Victor isn’t the brightest.
- Consider the purpose of every scene. Scenes should either advance the plot or add to the character, not embellish the backdrop. A scene devoted solely to worldbuilding will make the reader snore. As you outline your story, be sure to examine every scene’s purpose. Check them off if they clearly advance plot or develop character – but if they only add to the story’s stage, cross them out. A scene examining the complete history of Moon Number Nine is irrelevant to the reader, unless the moon explodes with Victor on it by paragraph three. Remember, the story, not the world, should be at the center of every scene.
- Cast a diverse set of characters. Maybe they’re from different kingdoms, or maybe they’re different races. Maybe Tangerina, an Orange Alien, is forced to ally with an enemy Blue Alien. But when they get to fighting wizards together, they just might learn from each other. Diverse characters are different from confused characters because they all know a little something about your world – but they can still all learn from each other. In The Lord of the Rings, humans, elves, dwarves, and hobbits unite, and all of Middle Earth is represented. Each character can learn from the others, and many facets of your world are represented in character form.
How do you avoid infodumping? Do you know any other tips I should add to my list! Leave a like if you found this helpful!