“If you can’t say it interestingly, don’t say it at all.”

26 02 2011

“A cardinal rule of writing is never interrupt yourself to explain something. If you must bring up an obscure topic, drop informative hints about it as you go along so that you don’t end up with the entire explanation all in one place. This keeps you from skidding to a stop and sounding teacherish. Otherwise it’s better to omit the obscure topic altogether, or as mothers might put it: If you can’t say it interestingly, don’t say it at all.”
-Florence King

I find this in almost all of my first drafts, in the form of backstory.  As a writer I LOVE backstory.  When you’ve poured days, months, years into creating a character’s personality and life story there is a strong desire to show all your hard work up front.  But as painful as it is to admit, that much detail is a book killer.  Detailed backstory is one of those “obscure topics,” one that needs to be hinted at and revealed throughout the length of your book(s).

The fact of the matter is that readers don’t care yet.  That’s why they’re reading the book, because they want to care.  And they’ve picked up your book, trusting that you can make them care about this story, and more particularly about this set of characters.

How do we learn to care about people in life?  We get to know them over time, through conversations, at parties, sharing opinions.  The same goes for books.  Let the characters speak for themselves, and let the reader get to know them through their actions more than their detailed backstory.

(By the way, I found this great quote today on Jon Winokur’s website, AdviceToWriters.com.  Jon is a constant great source for daily quotes and inspiration for writers.  If you’re not already following him on Twitter–you should!–you can find him @AdviceToWriters.)




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