Don’t Over Explain: Readers Get It the First Time

image by mattysimpson

Most authors have heard or read RUE, Resist the Urge to Explain.

In the example paragraph below, see if you can spot where the author has not resisted the urge to explain.

Passage With Unnecessary Explaining

Officer Pierce jumped the fence, the heel of his boot grazing the rail. The rail was higher than any man of his height could scale easily. Once he hit the ground, he regained his speed, churning his legs as fast as he could. “Stop, or I’ll shoot!” he yelled in a loud voice. The perp raced forward, bent on outrunning Officer Pierce. He didn’t look back to check how close Pierce was.

image by Open-Clipart-Vectors

Pierce ran faster. He tripped, fell, and rolled on the grass. His foot must have caught on a rock protruding from the ground. When he sprang to his feet, the perp was gone. Pierce searched the area, looking in all directions. No luck. He didn’t get a break. Discouraged and his head hanging over his chest, he trudged to his vehicle, the SUV he’d used in the pursuit.

Unnecessary Explaining

  1. Explaining the height of the rail slows the pace of the chase and is unnecessary.
  2. The author doesn’t need to tell how someone regains his speed. It’s usually making his legs move faster.
  3. The exclamation mark is used to let readers know someone is yelling, which means they are talking loudly.
  4. Most perps are bent on escaping their pursuers.
  5. Explaining that the perp didn’t look back to gauge how close Pierce was slows the pace of the chase.
  6. Explaining how Pierce could have tripped may be the author intruding to give a plausible reason the reader doesn’t care about. If it’s Pierce’s thoughts, it seems unlikely he’d be trying to figure out what tripped him, when all he cares about is catching the perp.
  7. When one searches an area, they usually look in all directions.
  8. No luck means Pierce didn’t get a break. One expression will suffice.
  9. His head hanging and his trudging show his discouragement.
  10. Readers would assume his vehicle is the car he used in pursuit.

An Improved Version of the Passage

image by Clker-Free-Vector-Images

Officer Pierce jumped the fence, the heel of his boot grazing the rail. Once he hit the ground, he regained his speed. “Stop, or I’ll shoot!” The perp raced forward.

Pierce ran faster. He tripped, fell, and rolled on the grass. When he sprang to his feet, the perp was gone. He searched the area. No luck. His head hanging over his chest, he trudged to his cruiser.

 

Try this exercise to spot an author’s unnecessary explaining. Click to tweet.

What bothers you most about authors explaining actions and dialogue?

 

Amazon Link

Amanda Larrowe’s lack of trust sabotages her relationships. The English teacher and award-winning author of middle-grade adventure books for boys has shut off communication with friends and family to meet her January 2 book deadline. Now, in the deepest snow accumulation Richmond, Virginia has experienced in years, Camden Lancaster moves in across the street. After ten years, her heart still smarts from the humiliating aftermath of their perfect high school Valentine’s Day date. He may have transformed into a handsome, amiable man, but his likeability doesn’t instill trust in Amanda’s heart. When Cam doesn’t recognize her on their first two encounters, she thinks it’s safe to be his fair-weather neighbor. Boy is she wrong.

Authorial Intrusion – Readers Get a Dose from the Writer

image by PIRO4D

Authorial Intrusion as a Literary Device

In authorial intrusion, the author directly addresses the reader, intending to build a relationship with the reader on some level.

This literary device was popular until the 20th century. The movie, Ferris Bueller’s Day Off (1986), represents well-planned authorial intrusion as Ferris tells about his day off.

How to employ authorial intrusion.

I’ve put the intrusion in italics solely to highlight it for you.

  1. Give an opinion about a character or event.

    Couldn’t Bill rake faster? The debate team would blame him if Bill was late. Jack snatched the rake from Bill and piled up leaves. Bill watched.
    It was common knowledge that Jack could be impatient at times, and this was one of those times.

  1. Explain or inform readers on setting, characters, props, and plot and offer opinions throughout the story.

Cassie stealthily handed Ruth the bobbin. Bobbins are used in sewing machines to hold the thread that catches the top thread in the needle to make a stitch.

image by WerbeFabrik

3. Supply information that the point-of-view character couldn’t mentally or physically know.

Wendy had no energy to can peaches. Unchecked cancer cells inside her lungs were dividing to develop a second tumor.

 

  1. Tell readers about an upcoming event unknown to the character.

As Jack stretched his leg muscles, butterflies in his stomach jumped the official’s gun and raced in circles. In minutes, he’d collect his winnings and have the money to propose to Kate. You can imagine how devastated Jack will feel when he loses the race.

  1. Philosophize.

Tina interrupted the flow of her novel and told the reader her character was headstrong. She was no worse than other novice writers who disrupt the story to tell the reader something they could easily show from the character’s point of view.

Warnings.

Using authorial intrusion is difficult to interest today’s reader. It is more successful for children’s books.

image by elljay

For novels in which characters tell the story, the writer’s voice is a definite intrusion and pulls the reader out of the story. The reader may be identifying with a character, then is suddenly in a one-sided conversation with the writer. The reader doesn’t know whom he should identify with—the character or the author.

Remember, in first-person narrative the character should give thoughts, opinions, and observations that belong to him, not to the narrator.

Author Intrusion: Unintentional Weak Writing

Sometimes, writers slip into their stories. I imagine the character looking up and saying:

“Author, did you mean to interrupt my leap off the truck? Was explaining that my jump was a bad move because I had broken my ankle five years ago necessary? I was just about to hit the ground, roll, and then duck into the roadside ravine before the driver sees me. Now you’ve distracted the reader from my cool move. Are you so jealous of my relationship with the reader that you must call attention to yourself? How about letting me tell my story? Don’t you agree, Reader? It’s just you and me until the end.”

Is authorial intrusion on your agenda or does it sneak into your writing? Click to tweet.

Which do you prefer: intimacy with the hero/heroine or with the author through authorial intrusion?