Know thy book

5 Feb

Now here is a lesson I need to take to heart:

http://bookviewcafe.com/blog/2013/02/05/tell_me/

I think I spent more time during the writing of the first draft of my novel explaining what was going on to my beta reader verbally after the fact of her reading a chapter than I spent writing the chapter.

In my defense, I thought I was writing an entirely different kind of book than I was. I thought I was writing a book in which the true nature of one of the heroes, several of the villains (including one who really isn’t a villain, but must act like one), and a few other characters is revealed very gradually and is only explained outright around chapter 16 or 17 of 23. What I wanted was for the reader to uncover the answer to a mystery, gradually, with the heroes, as the clues unfolded.

I imagined my book was something like my childhood favorite, Alexander Key’s Escape to Witch Mountain, where you’d have a perfectly comprehensible adventure about two magically-gifted orphans even if you never got the “big reveal” the book/film was unfolding towards (that the children are in fact aliens, not witches). The book would still make sense without that ending, but that ending makes better sense of the events and clues scattered through the story than what you assume through much of the story.

Based on that model, however, I struggled for 17 or 18 of the 23 chapters hiding every thought, every word, every action my more “unusual” characters had that would give the answer away too soon, until I had a cast of characters who were doing incomprehensible things for incomprehensible reasons, or who had to be made ignorant of things I had fully planned for them to know upfront so they wouldn’t “give it away” to the reader until the characters who didn’t know found out, too.

So now I know I am writing a story in which I need to tell the reader much more upfront, and in which I have to figure out the delicate art of knowing when, and if, I can hold back details to maintain the sense of mystery.

And that’s… harder.

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