In any scene, your goal must be to immerse readers totally and keep them walking around in your “fictional dream.” Explanations often sink those lofty intentions.
Writing Tip for Today: Here are tips on how to keep readers immersed without relying on explanations:
Need to Know
When we craft scenes, we often worry that readers won’t get the information we need them to have. We then turn to explanations to be two-hundred percent sure readers will “get” our meaning. But by explaining, we shoot down the organic qualities that make scenes come to life. The acronym RUE or Resist the Urge to Explain (thanks, JR!) is a great way to remind yourself to stay in the scene.
Be sure your character does and says things not because you need readers to know them, but because your character is passionately pursuing the story goal. Think of the difference between a student driver video with a droning narrator as opposed to a film that acts out the information from a deeply felt need.
If you insert an explanation because you’re worried your readers will miss something, you may want to strengthen or sharpen your story goal and your character’s motivation for reaching it. Readers want to follow a person with a passionate desire for something, a desire coming from that person’s deepest core. Explanations remove emotion and motivation, replacing them with dry information.
Characters say things because of their motivations and desires, not to inform readers. If you put explanations into your characters’ mouths because you need readers to know something, the dialogue will likely sound stilted and unnatural. Remember, readers want to enter your world, but they don’t want you intruding all the time by making characters explain your directives.
Remember, characters don’t tell each other things both already know. For instance, the “You Know” syndrome leaks info to readers (Gary, you know this mansion is haunted) but sounds silly. If a character asks, “Joe are you going to work at the cookie factory at the corner of Main and First at seven this morning?” Readers will see the obvious—that it’s you the author trying to shoehorn info into a convo.
Real characters would more likely say, “You going to work today?” Both know the character’s name, the place of employment and where it’s located. Put dialogue into the mouths of three-dimensional characters, who talk like real people. Similarly, a dialogue in which one character orates or gives an encyclopedic response will sound phony too. Get the pertinent info into your POV character’s head where he/she can observe it firsthand.
Let your character observe her world firsthand.
Explanations suck emotion and realism out of your scenes and lower them to the excitement of watching paint dry. Don’t force your character to act in ways that serve your plot but aren’t coming from that character’s desire.
Writing action that only serves the plot solves one problem but creates even larger woes. Make your character do active things but keep those actions consistent with the character’s personality. If your character hates exercise, don’t have him go for a morning run unless it’s to showcase his loathing. A character in a coma which suddenly resolves must be written as if readers are “waking up” alongside the character, not a detailed medical explanation of coma.
Every action you write will be more effective if you write scenes from the foundation of your character’s particular wants, needs and hangups. Explanations typically zoom out the camera to a desert where readers can’t feel along with the characters. Remember, RUE and Resist the Urge to Explain.