My daughter is quite the tender thing. She’s seven, and anytime we talk about her future marriage, career, or anything that involves a new address, her eyes instantly fill with tears. She’s terrified of leaving home—leaving me. I eat it all up too. I pat her on the back and wipe her tears, telling her she can live with me as long as she wants.
The truth is, I’m just as terrified of her leaving me as she is terrified of facing the world without her mom. One day, my baby will be all grow’d up and there’s nothing I can do about it. It’s part of creation. Something is born; it grows and thrives; then it moves on to something else.
The same is true of writing. I won’t suggest that having a finished novel is like having a child, although to many of us it feels like that. We’ve poured everything we have into it, hoping that our efforts will pay off, that readers will see our vision—they’ll get it. It’s hard to fully let go, to put it in the hands of people we’ve never met. Will they treat it poorly? Will they appreciate its potential?
I’m not sure where the need to explain comes from but I’m seeing it a lot in the novels I’m critiquing and in submissions for this blog. Starting the novel in the wrong spot is one of the big signs to me that the writer will over explain. Often it will start with backstory or an introduction to a bunch of characters, or an info dump about the setting. Meanwhile, I’m wondering where the story is. All the details are nice, but readers want to forget they are reading. They want to experience the words rather than simply pass them by with their tired eyes. Experiences not information.
So Hook’er what do you mean by this urge to explain?
I’m glad you asked.
One way is through emotions. Are you telling your readers how your character feels or are you showing us?
Jane wiped away her tears, depressed that she couldn’t live with her mom forever.
The sentence started with action. We see that Jane is sad. Why is she sad? What’s up Jane? But before we can experience or reflect on Jane’s sadness, our question has been answered. Jane’s depressed because she doesn't want to leave her mom.
The writer stole the experience right out from under the reader. The writer provided information. Another term for this is “telling vs. showing”. If your reader feels cheated enough, he will stop reading. I do all the time.
I don’t have a lot of time to read. Besides my own writing, I have boogery kids with noses to wipe, a husband who likes to eat, and a house that should be cleaned. Those mundane things occupy my day, and when I pick up a book, I want to escape the ordinary. I want to jump into a world and experience something new—to feel something different.
So are you explaining too much? How do you know?
Do you have long passages of narrative summary with no action? Do you describe your characters feelings or are you telling us they are mad, sad, glad? Do you start your story with the MC’s past or do you jump right into the inciting incident? Do you spend the first part of your story worldbuilding or do you allow your reader to experience the world, see the world through the POV character?
I don’t want this blog to simply come off as another don’t break the show vs. tell rule. I completely understand the need to explain, to want your reader to leave with complete understanding. To see that your “baby” is all grow’d up and that you are so proud. But it’s time to let go, time to send your baby off and let others see just how much love you poured into it, to experience it firsthand.
Have you R.U.E’d today?
Thanks for looking,
The Skeptical Hook’er