Friday, April 20, 2012

How Much is Enough... or Too Much?

As writers we create characters and stories that come to life in our minds. The challenge is knowing when you've told the reader everything he/she needs to know for the story to make sense.


I know so many writers who make elaborate character profiles, filled with information that won't make it into the story. I also know writers who tell me certain minor characters have great backstories that don't make it into the manuscript. So the question is, how do you know how much information to include?


I use my beta readers and CPs for this. If they don't understand something, then I need to add information. Because it's in my mind, I automatically fill it in when I read, even though I never put it on screen. My readers can't do that. This is why it's crucial to have people read your work. Only they can catch what you miss. Even though I edit for clients and a small publisher, I need others to help me edit my own work, mostly for this reason. My mind sees the whole picture, but that doesn't mean I put it all on screen.


In the same token, betas and CPs can let you know when you've told too much--if there's information the reader doesn't need and doesn't move the story forward. These are good places to make some cuts.


Do you have any tricks for finding holes or areas of too much info in your own work, or do you rely on your betas for this, too?

54 comments:

  1. Interesting. I'm reading a book now called "Write Like Hemingway" by R. Andrew Wilson. The book talks about Hemingway's "Iceberg Theory" in which you have a deep back story but you overtly state as little as possible, implying much with a few carefully chosen words. This is supposed to intrigue the reader and add depth and truth to the story. Hey it worked for Hemingway!

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. That's pretty much what I'm talking about. Having an elaborate back story but only revealing bits and pieces of it. :)

      Delete
  2. This is something I struggle with, so I have to let my beta readers be the judge. In my head, my characters have entire life stories ti explain their actions!

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. I know. My beta readers usually have to tell me that they can't see inside my head. LOL

      Delete
  3. Is there another way, other than having someone read it? I've never found one.

    Btw, I got the ToD stuff in the mail, thanks! It looks great!

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Oh, good. I'm glad it made it there safely. :)

      Another way? Hmm... I haven't found it yet. LOL This is why I love my betas.

      Delete
  4. I'm still learning how to balance information. I'm getting better at it; think I'm almost there.

    I also believe that some of it can be subjective, just like tastes. I have one beta, who likes a bit of mystery and some info hidden until later on. Yet another likes things said right up front. *sighs....

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Yeah, that's a preference thing. In that case, I'd go with what you feel works best for the story.

      Delete
  5. There is no method to my madness...

    ReplyDelete
  6. Yes, your trusted readers can clue you in when you've told too much or not enough. I rely on my writing group for this. One also must develop an inner radar. It's great to have a romantic scene, for instance, but there's no need to describe every move of a sex act.

    ReplyDelete
  7. Well you can't please everyone and everyone has different needs. I just go with my gut and hope for the best! However, I do run almost everything by my critique buddies.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Sometimes you have to go with your gut--definitely during drafting.

      Delete
  8. I took a huge risk with My Clearest Me when I didn't seek critique, but even though there isn't any hole in the published work, I'm not taking another risk with the next book. Seeking critique is really important.

    ReplyDelete
  9. Another way to do this before you send off to your betas (not instead of sending to betas) is to do a knowledge chart. It can be any form that works best for you, but basically you track who knows what and when. It won't find all those details, but it's a good way to make sure your characters aren't responding to info they don't have yet or pretending they don't know something they learned four chapters ago.

    ReplyDelete
  10. I've heard of something called the "Kitchen Sink" novel, where writers try loading everything they know about a certain subject into their book. Unfortunately, I might be guilty of this, but I'm afraid to cut things because I want it to be easy reading and not a puzzle. Some books are written with a sort of thin thread holding everything together and they make the reader work hard to figure out what is really happening. Personally, I don't like books like that. Maybe someday a professional editor will tell me their thoughts on my manuscript.

    ReplyDelete
  11. I'm guilty of not giving enough info myself! I, too, love critique partners :)

    ReplyDelete
  12. I read a partial manuscript once where the writer wrote every single detail involved in a character getting into a car, driving to a location and then getting out of the car. There was nothing in that scene that developed the character or moved the plot along. When that happens, I usually think, it needs to go. Then entire scene needs to go! :)

    ReplyDelete
  13. I agree with you that it is important to have others read and edit your work to find errors and tell you if you have told too much or not enough.

    My co-author and I did't meet with a critique group- but our book was read anonymously to three fifth grade classes. The students filled out surveys and gave feedback on every chapter. This helped us so much because we were able to fill in holes that we hadn't made clear and at times we even deleted whole chapters and made the story more exciting. Hearing what 5th graders (our book is MG) thought of our book helped us make sure that our book rang true for our intended audience. Their feedback was crucial to our book!

    ~Jess

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. That's awesome that you were able to do that. That kind of critique is priceless!

      Delete
  14. I often write simple words--sometimes a lot of them--to get the idea or the character down on paper. Then I go back later and hone those words, trying for fresh more economical ways to express what I want.

    ReplyDelete
  15. Three cheers for Betas. You know you got it right when they describe the character back to you not only as you saw it in your mind's eye, but even better!

    ReplyDelete
  16. I never wrote a book or even though of doing, so i can't answer your question, but I just take the opportunity Kelly to say I LOVE YOUR JOB!!!!!! You're so lucky!! Reading as a job! I would love to do that!

    ReplyDelete
  17. I am only writing the second book so it is a bit premature of me to say I have a system. With Stella's story I wrote full character sketches and then completely ignored them when I wrote the book. I realize characters don't write their own stories, its me, the writer doing the hard work, however, I believe my style is to write them alive as I am writing. I have a feel for my current protagonist but the further I get into the story the more of her comes out in her dialogue, her actions, and her reactions. I see this happening and I go back and make notes in earlier chapters to remind myself to make subtle changes when I go back to the rewrite. Character development and dialogue are second nature to me. I don't question it because then my over analytic self will jump in - I save that side of me for poetry. Great question, Kelly.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. You create very real characters, Brenda. I think you know you have a big fan in me. :)

      Delete
  18. I couldn't agree with your more, Kelly, I've served as an editor for many years but can't be subjective enough for my own work, which is why I joined a critique group of well-published authors.

    ReplyDelete
  19. I write everything down. I think the more you write and learn about your character or your world, the more that knowledge comes through in your writing, and the more you can cut. Did that make sense?

    I know what you mean, too. I can see errors in everyone else's writing, but in my own I just can't SEE them! I get too close. Hurrah for Critique Readers!

    ReplyDelete
  20. An interesting post Kelly. I'm hoping to get to the stage at the end of the Summer where I will need some beta readers and CR's to read my novel, so hopefully they will set me straight when necessary. I saw your book at Indigo in Barrie!!!

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Really? That's pretty cool. And good luck getting that MS completed. :)

      Delete
  21. I write my first drafts really fast. AFTER the novel is drafted I spend a week or so thinking about my people, their character arcs, the story arcs.
    I don't usually write anything down, just get an idea of who they are. When I go back through the MS, I add the stuff from what I've learned in places it matters.

    BUT I don't spend writing when I know it won't be in the story.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. I draft really quickly, too. It's my favorite way to write. I had to work on adding stuff in during revisions.

      Delete
  22. While writing my draft, I usually include a lot of info about my characters. Then, while editing, I think hard about those details as they relate to the overall story and start adding or deleting stuff. In the end, readers help a lot, though. I remember with a short story, I deleted a detail the reader would've liked to have known.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. This sounds like a good way to do it, Auden. I may have to try it.

      Delete
  23. Sometimes it helps for me to verbally tell the story to someone else. Usually, they'll have questions during the telling that let me know I've left something out of the story.

    ReplyDelete
  24. I've gotten better at deleting things. I don't even blink taking out pages and pages of stuff. Still, my CP's will tell me which areas are repetitive and unnecessary.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. I've better at deleting, too. It did take some time though. ;)

      Delete
  25. Along with CPs and betas, I think TIME works best for this. If we can come back and read it as a reader would, we can pick some of this up ourselves. This is one good argument for moving straight ahead through a draft and not rereading what you've already done. By the time you get to the end, you may have the needed distance from the beginning.

    ReplyDelete
  26. I depend on those who read my manuscript. I'm also lazy, so when I develop my characters, I only go as deep as I feel I need to, so that I understand the characters and I stay on track with them.

    ReplyDelete
  27. Hi Kelly, what an interesting post. It's difficult to know how much information to include for a character. I've been to writing classes where we worked out every detail of a character's life. This was useful but deciding which parts of that information to include can be tricky. I think it's good to keep it relevant to the plot and to leave a bit of mystery just like when meeting a person in real life-they're more intriguing if we don't know everything about them.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Anita, I completely agree. You can't reveal everything. A little mystery is good. :)

      Delete

I love comments, but not spam. All spam will be deleted.