Tuesday, September 29, 2009

Cleaning up our manuscripts: stuffing information down readers' throats

Sometimes we feel the need to stuff down too much information to our reader at once, instead of gradually feeding information to the reader, or hinting, or giving them just enough so that they come to their own conclusions.

Or, we'll want the reader to know some "backstory" or other information that is crucial to the storyline and we shove it down their throats in dialogue, in an unnatural way.
Such as,

After describing her heaving bosoms, aqualine green eyes, pouty lips, and determined chin in the mirror, arms akimbo, she stomped her little foot and cried to the room because no one was standing there, "I am going back to the market on fifty-first street today, where I went last week to get tomatoes for the famous homemade sauce my family has made for generations, and while there I saw that dark and dastardly street vendor Raoul and Raoul stole my broach just as it happened with my mother and her mothers mother and her grandmother before her! I shall have vengeance on Raoul this very day or else my name isn't Sabrina Janna Barbarito Deligato!"

Okay, for some reason I always laugh when I see "arms akimbo" - I've never used arms akimbo in my life (other than this example *haw*), but last night while reading a book I saw it! I'd not seen that way to describe hands on hips in ages. I'll never use arms akimbo, but I suppose if you must you must *laughing*

So, friends, what I am talking about here is when you want to take the easy or cheating or unimaginative or lazy way out and force down the throats of your readers information instead of thinking of a better way to allow them to find out in a more natural, or gradual, or the old "show not tell" way, or in a way that gives the reader credit for knowing or figuring out much more than we as writers think they do/can.

I wanted to make a comment about the post below concerning the "describing character while looking in the mirror." Some of you wrote: "Oh no, I have a describing in the mirror scene!" Well, I have a mirror scene: Young Virginia Kate runs to her bedroom to get her camera, sees herself in the mirror, and notices her hair is messy, she has a spot of ketchup on her blouse and it reminds her of the snake's blood. So, she makes these observations and goes on. That's something we'd all do, wouldn't we? We'd pass a mirror and make an observation about ourselves.

But, more important, remember what I keep saying: If you convince your audience, make them believe, make them happy to be where you lead them, engage them in your character's world, you have done your job--Period.

google images from: newscientist.com


Terri Tiffany said...

Great post with information so many of us need to read:) SO happy your work is progressing on your second book! When will it be published?

Patience-please said...

Thank you - this is very helpful!

Carol @ TheWritersPorch said...

arms akimbo? I think I do that quite often!Don't write it though! :) xoxo

Diane said...

Good points :O)

Lazy Writer said...

I've been working on revisions lately, and I've found several areas where I dumped info down the readers throat. I think it's real easy to get lazy and leave it that way. After letting it sit for three months, coming back to it now, I have a whole new energy and am able to rewrite those info dumps. Great post!

Jessica said...

Eeek! Well, I might be guilty of this. I'll have to keep an eye out. But your example was so funny that I think I would've enjoyed it in a book! LOL

nannette said...

Yes, absolutely.

Suldog said...

Well, I sort of blanked out for a bit at "heaving bosoms", but once I regained relative consciousness, good points, for sure :-)

Strange Fiction said...

Good points. I am so looking forward to finishing my draft so I can get back to revisions. Gee, I can't believe I said that :)

Titus said...

Isn't there a group called "Legs Akimbo". Must send you that mirror poem.
I do enjoy your posts.

Sheila Deeth said...

Great post. Great examples. Thanks.

Deb Shucka said...

I love your bad example. Maybe you should enter it in the "It Was a Dark and Stormy Night" contest. :-)

Analisa said...

Ok so the example just made me laugh out loud...it was the name I found funny.

Arms akimbo always sounds like someone is getting ready to do a dance...outside of their hut...in front of the big fire god....before they go to war...against the natives....on the other side of the island.


Barbara said...

Kathryn, that was a hilarious example. So good. I'm embarrassed to say in a romance I wrote twenty years ago I DID use that word. (Ugh, sorry.) But never again because it stuck in my craw. It was in style back then. But maybe it just spoke volumes about my learning to write in my own voice.

I so agree about peeling the onion. I always think of it as something I'd rather have my characters do than to do it myself. It makes me cry!!
xoxo B

Debra said...

Pardon me while I google "akimbo". Seriously.

A Cuban In London said...

I loved you post but a distinction must be made. You're describing writing in English, I suppost. In Spanish the process is different. The sentences are longer and full of subortdinate clauses that usually throw anglo-speakers off balance when they read them. In English you can verbalise nouns and adjectives (I know, I know, I also frown on that, too) but you catch my drift, probably. As a person who reads in English, Spanish, French and German, I find the English language the easier one to navigate through. The book I'm currently reading is ever so good because it manages to convey a lot of information in very few words.

Excellent post.

Greetings from London.

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