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.
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.
- Explaining the height of the rail slows the pace of the chase and is unnecessary.
- The author doesn’t need to tell how someone regains his speed. It’s usually making his legs move faster.
- The exclamation mark is used to let readers know someone is yelling, which means they are talking loudly.
- Most perps are bent on escaping their pursuers.
- Explaining that the perp didn’t look back to gauge how close Pierce was slows the pace of the chase.
- 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.
- When one searches an area, they usually look in all directions.
- No luck means Pierce didn’t get a break. One expression will suffice.
- His head hanging and his trudging show his discouragement.
- Readers would assume his vehicle is the car he used in pursuit.
An Improved Version of the Passage
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?
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.
It insults me as a reader.
I think most readers would feel this way. Over explaining tires me out too.