Monday, August 18, 2008

When Not Enough Is Too Much

I was recently working with one of the writers in the Marketing Your Fiction Novel Online class when this issue came up. The writer had a character with a lot of conflict and back story that was part of the mystery. You know. Where he came from, who he really was and so forth. The author began immediately in the story getting the reader going in the central conflict of the story (this was fine) but because of all the questions that had to come out, the opening section was really confusing.

Does this make sense?

In otherwords, the writer wanted to keep the suspense up for the reader and not give away all of the secrets too early in the book. As the writer pointed out, "I suppose, that the reader may not care about the characters yet enough to be patient for me to tell the story and let it unravel in due time." This author got it.

The thing is that readers are not patient. You may have a great story to be told and you are right, it is great to keep us in suspense, but things need to be accelerated a bit more. Time moves much differently in books and information comes out at a different rate than it would in real life.

When it comes to your writing, you need to make sure that you keep giving the reader information a little at a time. Not too much backstory at once (which is the other end of the pendulum) but enough to keep us asking for more. Please note that I am saying "us" as in the reader. We can learn things about the characters and their back story and still keep the secrets from the other characters. This adds to the fun of the story.

I am reminded of something similar that came from a conversation with Alfred Hitchcock. He described that there are two different types of terror and he used a desk blowing up as the example. The first is the image of seeing a person writing at their desk and it just blows. The audience is startled and screams at the suprise but it could be stronger. He said that he can show you the same scene, except, at the very beginning, he just has to show you the bomb under the desk. Now the audience is in terror as they scream for the guy to get up and run. In other words, we have the information, but the characters don't. This is fun.

Part of the reason I brought this up now is for those of you looking to submit to editors and agents. This is why the opening scenes are sooooooo crucial. We, like the readers, don't have the patience to wait for the information.

Your homework. Take a look at if you are giving us too much or too little.

Good luck.


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