When your readers are confused…
Dance a unique dance between withholding and revealing, subtlety and clarity, showing and telling.
Letters to an Aspiring Writer
Craft a marketable book without second-guessing yourself. Nurture your self-trust as a writer.
If your readers are confused, ask these questions when you revise:
1. Are you withholding too much information in order to have a big reveal or create intrigue?
- A setup is when you create anticipation or expectation in a reader through foreshadowing, symbolism, paying attention to something, cryptic dialogue, a suggestion of brewing conflict or other hints or ‘tells’ (as Anton Chekhov famously said, “One must never place a loaded rifle on the stage if it isn’t going to go off. It’s wrong to make promises you don’t mean to keep.”).
- A payoff is when that setup ‘lands’. What is anticipated comes to pass, or the significance of something unexplained becomes clear, illuminating what was mysterious, making sense of what seemed in need of explanation.
This is about being intentional with how you withhold and reveal information and insight to the reader.
Don’t distract your reader for the sake of intigue
Use point of view to serve your story
An example of a big reveal that doesn’t happen in the final resolution.
What does ‘show, don’t tell’ mean?
As Lisa Cron explains, “‘telling’ tends to refer to conclusions drawn from information we aren’t privy to; ‘showing,’ to how the characters arrived at these conclusions in the first place.” (Wired for Story)But “showing isn’t necessarily limited to external action or dialogue, or that which we can see or hear.” (Donald Maas, The Emotional Craft of Fiction, p. 12). As Lisa Cron explains, “‘show, don’t tell’ often means show us the character’s train of thought.” (Wired for Story).
“He could not understand where Voldemort had gone and expected him to swoop put of the darkness at any moment.”
“I could see his mind working through a wine-induced haze. His eyes went from the pup to me and back again, and a sickened look spread across his face. He shook his head.”
“Something hot and wet was trickling down his chin and from his forehead.”
“‘So do you come here a lot?’Annie shook her head. ‘Sometimes I can’t face it.’ What kind of a person was she, that she didn’t visit her own baby’s grave?”(How to be Happy by Eva Woods p.133)
“Showing isn’t necessarily limited to external action or dialogue, or that which we can see or hear.”
When to Tell
- Strategic use of narrative explanation, exposition, or telling.
- A series of scenes which fully show or dramatize what a reader needs to know, each time in a slightly different way.
- Scenes which do what Robert Mckee advises and use ‘exposition as ammunition’. They use a piece of information to ‘turn’ a scene.
Dialoguewhich underlines and confirms what appears to be happening.
- Interiority in which the scene triggers memories, associations or epiphanies which serve to land the setup.
- Have characters act as surrogates for the reader, asking the questions they may be asking.
- Layering all of the above.
I analyse two writers as they weave these elements through their texts here.
Letters to an Aspiring Writer
- Bringing words of encouragement and craft to your inbox every other Sunday.
- Lifting you up and nurturing your self-trust as a writer.
- Keeping you informed about how you could work with me, and any special opportunities.
- Giving you direct access to my free office hour, to use
howeveryou like (run something past me, ask a bit more about what I do, tell me about your book, anything).