Thursday, September 3, 2015

Saving It All For Later...

...or, the Holding Your Cards Too Close To Your Chest Syndrome

Pocket Aces by John Morgan.
 Licensed under CC by 2.0. Edited from original.

When do you let out a choice detail in your writing? When it's absolutely needed, or when the reader wants it?

In my opinion, it's a fine line. A fine line that I sometimes fall off to one side or the other.

Sometimes a story does need some exposition at the beginning. Other times, the story demands that the details be portioned out carefully (mysteries and thrillers are classic examples).

"Readers want dirt, but they also want you to do the hard work of spreading it out and working it into their lawn for them."

One tendency I have noticed in my previous writing self is that when I had a unique idea or detail, such as a villain, I would sometimes try to show its effects well before I showed what it actually was. I used to think this was clever, or suspenseful. It does add suspense. Yet, my tendency was to reveal the details of that villain during the denouement. The problem with this strategy is that the denouement already has so much going on that the details I'd so carefully hoarded were somewhat lost in the excitement.

An assignment I've given myself in a novel I'm editing now, is to put those exciting villainous details into the narrative much earlier than I would naturally want to. There is no point in wasting my ideas I've so meticulously crafted.

All stories need structure. A truckload of details can't be dumped onto the front lawn of your story without consequences. Yet that same truckload of details also can't be hidden in the neighborhood for the frustrated reader to suss out. I guess where I'm going with this filthy metaphor is, that readers want dirt, but they also want you to do the hard work of spreading it out and working it into their lawn for them.

Where do you fall on the great reveal/hoard divide?


  1. Yep, pacing is all. I like to put in a lot of twists(I writ crime fiction) kow when you've spread the stuff well when a reviewer says 'I never saw that coming!'

    1. Exactly. Crime and thriller writers have to be adept at this art, or there are no thrills to be had in their writing!