How not to bore the reader with trivial details – book excerpt at Jane Friedman

friedTrivia is the stuff of life but you can easily have too much. There’s a fine line between sketching a realistic amount and boring the reader with shoals of baffling blather.

Today, Jane Friedman has showcased an excerpt from the characters book on her blog, and she chose the tutorial where I explain this tricky balancing act. If you’re curious about the book – or if you simply want to know how much of your carefully crafted background to include – come on over and see.

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  1. #1 by jumpingfromcliffs on June 13, 2013 - 9:28 am

    Excellent advice, thank you.

  2. #3 by mgm75 on June 13, 2013 - 1:06 pm

    Thanks Roz, always good advice. I read a classic scifi book by John Jacob Astor about a year ago (yes, the same oil tycoon who died on the Titanic). It was an interesting and amusing book – even if it was clearly a propaganda piece for laissez faire economics – but early on I almost gave up because of the lengthy expositions about the back story. There was just far too much of it.

    • #4 by rozmorris @NailYourNovel @ByRozMorris on June 14, 2013 - 11:27 am

      It’s funny how writing conventions have evolved. Many older books were able to beg the reader to be more tolerant, and so they loaded on the background, back story and everything else they could think of. Giving up on a book was probably unthinkable – indeed I remember feeling that a book had to be finished if I’d started it, even if it was torturing me to read it! And as we all learn from what we’ve read, successive generations of authors can end up thinking ‘it was okay for so-and-so to put the back story in first, so I will’!
      But we’re more aware than ever of what effect our writing has on the reader. So now we can use our expositions and whatnot with wisdom! Glad the piece chimed with you.

      • #5 by mgm75 on June 14, 2013 - 12:44 pm

        Have you found though that the more you write the less forgiving you become of bad writing in others, and consequently the more likely you are to give up on a book that makes you want to claw your eyes out?

        I definitely have, don’t know what others think?

        • #6 by philipparees on June 14, 2013 - 12:53 pm

          I am with mqm on this, but with a qualification that goes back to Roz on #4. I adore the nineteenth century novel precisely for that back story and genealogy, because it reflects the age, but I hate it in an injudicious modern one, unless it also reflects a society less pressurised than ours ( which might explain why I prefer Japanese or South American novelists rather than British!) I think back on my grandmother’s habits of always laying out the provenance of any character she was about to include in a narrative. Drove me mad then but how I wish it hadn’t, I am only just learning how much I missed by inattention.

          In other words the way of telling must marry where and what the story recounts but I still feel a guilt at giving up on a book so therefore more cautious about starting one! That is a different way of limiting I suppose.

          • #7 by mgm75 on June 14, 2013 - 1:45 pm

            I know what you mean philippa. I also find under-explanation (under-exposition?) a problem too. I want a back story, just not too much of it that I feel I’m reading an essay or too little that the novel feels like the concept never developed out of its first draft.

  3. #9 by Candy Korman on June 13, 2013 - 2:05 pm

    Excellent advice!
    Whenever I feel tempted to overwrite, I ask myself two questions:
    Does it forward the plot?
    Does it illuminate the character?
    If it does neither, or if I’ve already achieved that aim elsewhere in the story, I cut it.
    It’s like a low carb diet for my fiction.

    • #10 by rozmorris @NailYourNovel @ByRozMorris on June 14, 2013 - 11:28 am

      Exactly, Candy. These are good questions to ask. I find when I’m revising that I ask myself to consider them more and more strictly – and discover there are quite a lot of places where the answer is ‘no’. :)

  4. #11 by rozmorris @NailYourNovel @ByRozMorris on June 14, 2013 - 6:47 pm

    Mgm, that’s an interesting point about whether we can forgive writing that grates. I give up on a LOT of books now. But I also persist with a lot because I’ve decided I have to read them for research.
    This is one reason I’m not very active on Goodreads. A lot of my reading is background to the novels I’m working on but I don’t want to make it public because it doesn’t indicate what I read for my soul – though sometimes the two collide and then I’m very happy indeed. Also, another reason I don’t put my full reading repertoire up is that I don’t want to reveal so obviously what I might be writing…

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