Sunday, September 6, 2015


One of the hardest things we do as writers is figure out how much detail to reveal.  We want to paint a picture for the audience, but we want their imagination to at least hold the brush.

However, there are a few layers beyond this, and it always strikes me as a dilemma to try to figure them out.  The first is when we're trying to foreshadow something.  Salvation Day and Akeldama are perfect examples of this - in both stories, there are elements of the plot that don't show up for a long time, but I want to plant a seed in the subconscious of the reader to prepare him or her for the road ahead.  I want for readers to start thinking, "I wonder if that's going to affect something" without plastering a big neon sign overhead that reads "PAY ATTENTION TO THIS - IT'S IMPORTANT!!!"  You have to be subtle enough for the audience to not pick up on it right away and ruin the fun, but you can't be so subtle that no one can figure it out.

The deeper layer to this, and perhaps the one I struggle with the most, is the subtlety involved in putting in story elements without ever coming out and demonstrating to the reader what they mean.  This can be unspoken background or backstory, but we all do things in our lives for reasons most don't understand, yet if we spend all of our storytelling time in our novels talking about it, we're going to end up with word counts in the hundreds of thousands.  A lot of this is important to why the book goes where it does, so it can be incredibly frustrating to not mention it.

I think part of the issue lies in how we see our audience.  What goes into a great deal of too much detail is the same thing that goes into wanting to give away our subtlety - we don't trust the audience.  It takes patience to assume the person reading your novel can sift through everything and pluck out the useful nuggets.  After all, we're the ones telling the tale, and no one understands it better than us.  Plus, it would just kill us if nobody picked up on our brilliance, so we explain and explain and explain and explain until our detail loses all meaning and irritates our audience.

I can compare this to cooking.  I've recently started cooking a lot more, and one of my greatest fears is undercooking since I'm paranoid about foodborne illnesses.  Therefore, I have a tendency to overcook food, thus rendering it less full of flavor.  Cooking properly is teaching me patience, and subtlety demands the same thing.  We have to give our readers credit for intelligence, even if we don't feel it.  To me, that separates the mediocre from the good, and the good from the exceptional.

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