Info-dumping. We’re all guilty of it at one time or another, especially if we’re diligent writers who have Done Our Research. Maybe it’s habits left over from too many school writing papers. Maybe we have a secret yen to write the next Moby Dick. Maybe it’s just that we did all this work, found out all kinds of new things we’d never heard of before, and of course we want to share it all!
A noble impulse. No, really. When I go after a reference book I want something exactly like that. Packed full of info, all the info, the more esoteric the better. Heck, I still have a copy of The World of Kong: A Natural History of Skull Island for the extensive fictional ecology outlined in it. (The book is top-heavy with predators, real ecosystems have far more herbivores and omnivores, but eh, it’s fun. And pretty!)
Info-dumping in a reference book is great. In a story? Not so much.
Think of it this way. Stories are about people, first and foremost. They’re not about the info. They’re about what characters do with that info.
The trick is to make worldbuilding information part of the action. Something that moves the story forward, instead of a chunk of research-dry info dropped into the middle of an action scene. Here’s a few ways I’ve found that work, most of the time.
First, if you absolutely must drop a critical piece of info into an action scene, keep it short. Think a Hero Detective noticing that one critical clue as the Suspect tries to escape! Clothing wrapped left over right, instead of the other way around. Blood, dripping from one specific wound. An odd purple tint where magic fire should be green, and that’s important because….
Short. Simple. You can always expand on it when your heroes are getting over the adrenaline shakes, after the action is over. “Well, I hadn’t seen a purple tint to the Fell Flames spell since that time twelve years ago when we were fighting off the disguised Snakemen of Yith….” And so on.
Second, try to get in worldbuilding info as much as possible in setting descriptions. For example, as your character’s moving through the environment between action scenes, or on their way to the main Quest. If your hero is riding through the dazzling Rainbow Ice-Sculpted Valley, you have the perfect excuse for him to think about the legends behind this place. Or even how the legends have grown from the historical reality of his own band of companions seven centuries before bracing the last of their power so Demon Lord Icefeather’s fatal spell hit the landscape instead of a band of frightened elvish refugees.
Note, this one depends on the point of view you’ve got available and the character themselves. Make sure it covers what they think is important. Which may not be everything you want to get in. But keep people in character. Your reader’s far more likely to believe the details if the cowboy surrounded by a beautiful desert landscape is paying attention mostly to the hints of an ambush ahead, rather than stopping to rhapsodize on how the cactus needles catch the light of dawn.
…No, really, I ran into a men’s action-adventure that went on for about three pages this way, finishing up with, but of course the main character was paying no attention to all this scenery because it was irrelevant to his life of seeking an honorable death. If it’s not relevant to the character the reader doesn’t really want to know! Walled it.
Third, the explanation, or lecture. While you can give the reader info this way (I certainly have), it should be used sparingly, and in a context where it makes sense in-story. “All right, I’m a vampire hunter stuck in a monster-besieged building with a bunch of game but completely freaked-out civilians. Time to give them the rundown on How To Kill Ugly Stuff.” Actual lectures, if your character is some kind of instructor, are also a possibility. Just keep it brisk and to the point, without all the rambling and “um”s you remember from your own classes. Fiction should be better than reality!
Fourth is a method I’ve seen but not yet used personally: the mission report! Yes, if your character works for an Organization, they’ll likely be required to officially report on whatever they just got mixed up in. Which might include relevant background info for higher-ups not acquainted with, say, the alarm calls of velociraptors, the peculiar whine of a time portal about to go rogue, or the specific crackle of a storm-lightning offensive spell as opposed to a static-lightning ward.
What else can you come up with for getting information to your readers?