Thursday, November 17, 2011

Story Hints: How Much Is Too Much?

When I'm writing a novel, I often have many things about the ending planned in advance. I assume this is a common thing for writers, since ultimately the goal is to get to the end. In the case of Rosetta, I also have things planned for the next two books. Obviously, to get to these things, I need to build toward them gradually. In other words, I need to drop hints along the way, so it's not surprising when all of a sudden two characters sleep together in book two. But the question is: how big a hint is too big?

I have a tendency toward dropping too many hints too quickly. I don't want to leave the possibility that the reader might not pick up on it, or that it might be jarring. I have every intention of fixing this problem during editing. But I'm constantly worried that the reader, who is not inside my head and therefore has very little idea of what I'm thinking (though admittedly that problem may not be remedied if they were inside my head), will not understand the way my characters grow or change to fit the end game I have planned for them. So my hints tend to be heavy-handed, more of a smack in the face than a teasing caress.

On the other hand, my friend Kim trusts her readers much more, and she's very cautious about giving away too much. She relies on the reader to put the pieces together on their own, never wanting to give them too much information so they figure it out too early. She likes to give her readers more credit, believing they can reach the same conclusions she has. As a reader, I appreciate this quite a bit. As a writer, I find it incredibly difficult to do.

So maybe this is the question: is it better to err on the side of too much information or too little?

I've always liked those books where you don't pick up on the hints right away, but when you read them a second time (and I'm a chronic re-reader) you suddenly start to see them all for what they are. It's what I've aimed to do with Rosetta, especially with some of my main character's personality traits that I plan to develop more as the book and series go on. Yet I can't help feeling discouraged when I read a chapter back and realize I "casually mentioned" one such aspect four times in one chapter.

I have this problem when Quinn feels anxious about something as well. For example, in the first few chapters, she runs into her ex-boyfriend and spends the entire time thinking about how she acts like a lovesick teenager every time she sees him. Luckily, in the first round of edits, I sought and destroyed many instances of this, leaving just a few to acknowledge that she is, in fact, acting like a 13-year-old girl around him (a character trait that made me grind my teeth together and pray she grew out of it soon). It got so bad I actually broke the fourth wall and yelled at her through the page.

Now in chapters seven, eight and nine, she spends an unhealthy amount of time obsessing over a test she didn't believe she should have passed. This was done partly because I wanted to show her need to prove herself, but it exploded into her solitary focus for about 35 pages.

At what point do I start believing the reader will understand Quinn's insecurities without my harping on it any longer? At what point do I assume they'll understand a dropped hint or a secret smile that may show up several chapters later? And at what point do I trust that a few actions on her part will do more than a thousand long (internal) monologues? I'm just never sure.

No comments:

Post a Comment