Drip-Feed Information to your Readers

A look at why you should drip-feed information instead of dumping it onto your reader.

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Giving information to a reader is an integral part of writing. However, too much information in a short space of time can do more harm than good.

People can only take in so much information, and retain it, within a given amount of text. How much of this will you remember?

There was a small town called Town that was on the west coast of France. It had a blacksmith, a tanner, a fletcher, three butchers and a supermarket that only sells vegetables. It was next to the town of Village which had two hundred and three people, of which the one hundred and nineteen adults worked in Towny as there were only houses in Village. Both towns were run by a geriatric Mayor, Mr. Leader, who was very old, had grey hair and a beard, and walked with a silver-tipped staff in his left hand.

You’ll be able to retain some of it, but I wrote the thing and even I can’t remember everything that’s in there without going back to it. You need to consider how much information a reader can take in, but you also need to consider the focus of the point you are trying to make. Are you trying to say that the town is weirdly medieval but also has a supermarket? Is the focus the Mayor and the fact that he might be a wizard? Without you having a focus, the reader won’t know what to pay attention to either, and they will pick something for themselves.

That passage is a bit of an exaggeration, but it’s not uncommon to see that level of information spread throughout a single chapter. If you want to include all of that information that’s fine, but it needs to be spread out so that it can be reinforced. When you reiterate information by subtly referencing it multiple times from different angles, you tell the reader that what you’re talking about is important and that information should be retained. So, don’t just dump a load of information onto your reader, drip-feed it to them over time. It will make your writing better and help your reader keep track of everything that’s important.

David Chitty was born and raised in Thanet in the 90s. He devotes most of his energies to writing fantasy fiction novels.

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