Take time to deliberate, but when the time for action has arrived, stop thinking and go in.
- Napoleon

Saturday, October 18, 2008

The Fine Line

Okay, we writers all know that we have to make our characters sympathetic. We have to write in such a way to make the reader feel like they know the characters and that they want to know more about them. But there's a fine line between giving the reader enough information to fall for the people in our stories, and overloading them with too much.

As a reader, I like to know a little something about the people I'm investing my time in. Give me a little something to make the characters human and I'm happy. Make them seem real through their actions and their backgrounds and their habits. But really, I don't want the writer to belabor the point. Mention something once - unless it's integral to the plot - and then let it go. Say, for instance, a character is trying to quit smoking. Having her wrestle with it throughout the book, when she's trying to catch a murderer is too much. Having her partner shoot her dirty looks every time she lights up is irritating to say the least. (The reader - namely me - got it the first time.) Or for instance, delving into the character's home life. If it's not part of the plot, leave it out. So the kids are royal snots, and the ex-husband's a dork. Mention it and then let it go. Unless that's the crux of the story, fine. Otherwise, it's just flotsam. Get your little pool scooper and fling it out.

Now, for those few of you who've read my books, please feel free to shoot me an e-mail and tell me if you ever catch me doing this. I don't want things that aren't integral to the plot muddying up the works.

And yes, I know I mention Jace's fear of fire throughout Manhunter. I do that because it's integral to the plot, but if you think I've laid it on too thick, shoot me now before I get one point-blank between the eyes from an agent.

I think it was Aristotle who said something to the effect of 'In all things, moderation." With my writing, I try to strike a balance, and while it is a fine line sometimes, it's usually wide enough to see.

Without mentioning any titles or names, have you run across any obvious instances where the author laid it on too thick?


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