Novel writers long to be understood. That is, we long for our readers to understand our characters. As we toil endlessly toward the goal of showing not telling, EXPLAINING can derail our plans.
Writing Tip for Today: RUE or Resist the Urge to Explain, is a handy acronym for battling telly passages in novel writing.
- Who Needs to Know? YOU as the creator of the story, should know oodles of background info, how the character came to this place in her life, why she’s chasing a goal. The readers? They don’t care so much about all that. What they want is for the story to unfold. Without a lot of explanation. Go ahead and fill notebooks with research and all sorts of interesting psychological tidbits about your character. You should know what makes your character tick. But resist the temptation to dump all that fabulous info into your story. Instead, leak out bits and pieces in the same way you learn about people in real life: through things they say and do, their body language and their emotions and thoughts.
- Teaching is Dangerous. All that research (hours and hours of study, reading and maybe even travel) can’t go to waste! You happen to know every detail of the War of 1812 and by gum, you’re going to teach your reader! Adding info to your story for the purpose of EDUCATING the reader is still explaining. Let the reader experience what the character experiences. Just because you know a lot of stuff doesn’t mean you need to pile every bit of it into your manuscript. History, a cause or issue or theology are common subjects that writers think readers need to know more about. Well, yes–but let the character SHOW the reader what you mean.
- Back Story is Cold Mashed Potatoes. Each time your character’s “mind reels back,” the real-time action pauses. You force the reader to imagine a different time and place. But what about that real-time scene? The reader quickly forgets what was happening there if your back story or flash back goes on too long. If your character is eating mashed potatoes in the real-time, then every paragraph she spends in a flashback, she’s frozen. And her mashed potatoes are getting really cold! Better to keep flash backs short and/or weave in and out of the real-time and back story. A helpful tool is my Rule of Three. Back story is in essence, a form of explanation, so be careful using it. RUE and Rule of Three!