Top Ten Writing Tips #1 – Tell the Reader Everything

Gaie Sebold recently posted her 10 Top Tips for Writers on Pete Sutton’s excellent BRSBKBLOG. Reading it (and you should, there’s some great advice there) I realised my Top Ten would be very different. Not better, just different. Different people focus on different things, my priorities start elsewhere and what’s in the foreground of my mind is different to hers.

Ideas become inspiration, I thought I’d write my own top ten. And in the interest of keeping it different, I’ll write about a different one each week.

1. Tell the Reader Everything.

I first came across this as a quotation attributed the Kurt Vonnegut and I had to think about it for a while before I properly understood what it meant.

What it definitely doesn’t mean is that you should overload your writing with irrelevant detail. Character descriptions don’t need to detail the colour of their shoe laces, the last time they shaved or whether their earlobes are free or attached. Neither do you need to mention every item in a room (even if it is the laboratory of Pwimula Nesbytt, explorer and pilot of the Underground Zeppelin, MoleHusband), nor the height of every mountain in a range, or the last time our hero went to the toilet or ate prawn vindaloo.

Stick to the Point.

OK, so Stick to the Point is another rule for other circumstances, but we’re not going to go into that here. I mention it because I’m Telling You Everything. Everything I need to say to make my point. Which I am sticking to.

Great. Now I’ve got eleven top ten tips. Maybe this isn’t as easy as I thought.*

Focus.

What Tell the Reader Everything does mean is this: Tell the Reader everything they need to know at that instant in the story.  This also does not mean you should give away clues before their time, a reveal is a reveal and timing is everything.  And that’s pretty much the point. This is a need to know situation. When the Reader needs to know, tell them.

So if the colour of a character’s socks genuinely is important, say so. Say it in good time, so when we reach the Great Reveal at the climax of the story: ‘I knew it was Mowby Dick, he wore white socks!’ we can all nod wisely and think I knew that , or, that clever author – all the clues were there and I never spotted them.

To put it another way, never deliberately withhold information . Frankly, don’t be a smartarse and don’t try and prove to the reader you are cleverer than they are by pulling a rabbit out of a hat at the last minute. Especially if you’ve never even mentioned the hat.

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*So while I’m thoroughly off topic I’ll just mention that some people love lists. They adore lists, they really do, and would love to read a list of every single thing in Ms Nesbytt’s laboratory.

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