Monday, February 07, 2011

How revealing should we be?

No, I'm not reprising Nipplegate in honor of the Super Bowl. I'm worried about how much to reveal to my reader and when to reveal it.

I know we've talked about this before, but I'm in the middle of revising a suspense novel where I made the very interesting decision to tell the reader everything that every bad guy was doing as he was doing it and what he was thinking while he was doing it. It has created a book that my editor described as being like watching a chess game.

I've now pulled every scene from the bad guys' points of view and put them in a separate file. I'm going to print everything out and figure out what goes back in and when and where it goes back in. I spent a lot of time and thought on these bad guys. I know a lot about them. I'm thinking the reader doesn't have to know quite as much.

The whole question is how much to reveal and when to reveal it. Do I keep their identities secret? Do I obfuscate who does what? Or why they're doing it? I don't know. I hope my exercise in separating out the threads works because this puppy is due Friday and that's just not that far away.


Stephanie Doyle said...

Ooooh interesting. I love the technique. Taking out every bad guy scene - then reading the book without them to try and figure out what you as the reader really need to know...

Although I have to say... chess matches can be really interesting as you watch each opponent determine the next move.

Maybe that's just me.

Maureen McGowan said...

I had to do this with my Sleeping Beauty book... The bad guy (girl) in that book has a POV and it was tricky. My first editor didn't understand her motivation so I put more in... then the second (third, actually) editor for that book thought there was too much revealed early on. There's a "big secret" in that story and one editor wanted the reader to know it from the start, and the other editor did not. So, opinions clearly vary.

The only way I could figure it out was to do what it sounds like you're doing. Look at the villain scenes in isolation. Get them right. Then look at the rest of the book in isolation, and piece it all together.

I've been thinking about this, too, because I'm watching the 2nd season of Damages on DVD. I really liked the storytelling techniques used in the first season and found the twists exciting. (Although Sinead did not... and I think she was probably right--just a smarter suspense viewer than I am.) But this second season is not working for me yet, in spite of Timothy Olyphant being in it. (If I'd known that, I would've watched it sooner!) The reveals are both super clunky (constant flash backs and flash forwards) and manipulative. (Repeating scenes where we see a scene but not who's in it... so there's really no POV for the scene.) Annoying and does not draw me in.
Great actors in this series, but not great writing, IMHO. Eileen will do better. I have faith. :)

Wow that was a long comment. I should have saved it for a post. :)

Eileen said...

No. It was interesting. It's exactly what I'm worried about. How much information ratchets up the suspense. How much destroys it.

Sinead M said...

It's such a fine line and instinct thing. So hard to really pin down, but I think as readers, we know when it works and when it doesn't.

I always feel like I'm fumbling in the dark when it comes to this.

Molly O'Keefe said...

Wait the chess thing was not a compliment? I think that's an interesting take on a suspense novel - but clearly not so much with your editor.

Error on the side of too little. Just because that's easier to fix - a little sentence there. A word change here. Too much, and you've already dedicated all that energy on it and then it's hard to think that any of it isn't vital.

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