Writing Pitfalls – Too Much Information

there are many ways to start a story or novel but when you first start writing fiction it’s very tempting to give away too much history (or back-story)

Show vs Tell

You’ve probably heard the phrase `Show don’t tell‘. It’s mostly true. I say mostly because sometimes telling can be a powerful narrative tool and can work in some cases, but often, with fiction, it would be better to show the audience more and tell the audience less.

Imagine your story is a supernatural story about a child name Ciaran born with special abilities. Your first thought may be to write something like this:

Ciaran was always a quiet child. He had been born on the eve of midsummer and his father had delivered him in the middle of the night in silence. He remembered…

So far it’s alright, yes? But if it continues too long, you might lose your reader. If the next paragraph goes into a scene then that’s usually still alright, but if it continues with more and more telling, going into paragraphs and paragraphs of describing the characters feelings, emotions, thoughts etc it will become too easy to switch off from the story.

This doesn’t mean it can’t ever work but it can be too much for readers and frequently too much information actually creates less of a bond between character and reader, because it’s like you are describing the character to them instead of letting them follow the character for themselves.

Remember a scene is where something is happening. Something being shown. Instead of the above opening, you could start with a scene where Ciaran is hiding in his fathers barn and spying on someone talking to his dad. You could still use the details given above, that he was a quiet child and you could still reveal more about him but do it a little bit at a time, not all at once. This way the readers gets to know the character. Otherwise it’s like someone you’ve just met starting off:

“Hi, I was born on… I am… years old. My favourite colour is… All my life I’ve been…” etc

It’s all about focus.

For example, if you wanted to start with more action you could write the first scene differently, starting with something more dramatic (E.g. An accidental demonstration of Ciaran’s power).

Always err on the side of caution. A little at a time. The scenes can still introduce someone without telling you everything about them. It doesn’t matter so much in the first draft but when doing revision this is something to look out for.

Of course, as always, how you write your scenes will vary depending on which way you want to portray the character’s journey, but excessive telling is something which I see used a lot by new writers. More often than not half of the information would be better left out and the character introduced in a specific scene. This way the reader feels far more connected to the story and has a sense of setting from the start.

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