Way back when I first got into this whole writing thing, one of the first rules I learned was “Resist The Urge To Explain.” To be honest, I didn’t really understand the rule at first. I thought it was an admonition not to bore the reader with too many details. Don’t explain how a certain gun works, for example, just have the character pull the trigger. Don’t explain why a particular bus never seems to arrive at the bus stop at the proper time, just have it be late and let the character grouse about it. In other words, Keep the Story Moving. It wasn’t until much later that I realized RUE had more to do with not telling the reader something that would be better shown. Let the reader work it out for themselves.
A month or two ago, during a four hour car trip to my mom’s house in Missouri, I listened to “The Pathfinder” by Orson Scott Card. The story has plenty of novel elements, and I recommend the book if you’re into sci-fi, but I was struck by the amount of explanation scattered throughout the book. Each new concept or revelation was explained in intricate detail, often via a character’s internal thoughts, and, in my opinion, often at the expense of pacing.* I began punching the fast forward button more and more often, skipping through the explanations, especially if it seemed another character had already adequately covered the concept. Obviously, Mr. Card’s books are well respected and liked, so I suspect the “Resist the Urge to Explain” rule, like most other rules of writing, is rather subjective.
I bring this up because I’m struggling with a similar issue in my current WIP. I’m at the point of my story where the protagonist is finally being given answers to some of the peculiar things that have been happening to her up to that point, but deciding how much to reveal and how quickly I should reveal it sometimes leaves me scratching my head. If I explain everything too soon, it may come off as an infodump, but if I take too long, I may irritate the reader. And based on the comments of my crit partners, I have yet to hit that sweet spot. Some of them think I’m giving out too much information, while others want me to explain even more. Arg!
So what’s a writer to do? In my case, I’m going back through my CPs’ notes to find out which of the explanations they’re most eager to learn and making sure I cover them first. Once that initial curiosity is satisfied, I can dribble out the rest of the information over the course of the story.
What have YOU learned about writing this week?
*Disclaimer. I was listening to the book, and if there’s one thing I’ve learned about audiobooks, it’s that any perceived problems with pacing are magnified tenfold. Perhaps I wouldn’t have even noticed the explanations had I been reading the book instead.