Over-Explaining a Scene

Let’s talk about heavy explanation in a scene.

For example:

I saw the light on over the door. It must be my sister, coming home late from the dance. I heard laughter outside, followed by giggling, and then quiet talking. She must be with someone. Her date brought her home, probably. I looked out the window to see an unfamiliar truck at the end of the driveway. Yeah, definitely not her vehicle. It was probably John from down the street, the guy she’s been crushing on for a month now.

Yes, yes, we get it–you’re very observant, Protagonist. Everything is over-explained to us and now we’re annoyed by subtly having our intelligence insulted. Always assume your reader is smart enough to guess what’s going on in a scene. If you drag out the scene, it gets boring really fast and we’ll probably skip over it to reach the good parts.

Try a simpler approach. For example:

I saw the light on over the door. It must be my sister, coming home late from the dance. I heard laughter outside, followed by quiet talking. Without moving from the stairs, I waited for her to come inside and then grinned as I asked, “Who were you with?”

“John,” she said, a bit sheepishly.

Now the protagonist is being direct instead of acting like a shady creep. And now we get some interaction between two characters instead of a giant bubble of thoughts shifting around in the protagonist’s mind. It’s so much more enjoyable to read about “action” than the musings of a character (and by action I mean the plot is moving swiftly instead of at the pace of a snail).

This little problem often pops up when the protagonist is describing something–like a place or clothing or another character. Tolkien’s works are often disliked (not by me) for his long explanations. High fantasy can be excused at times for this, though not when it happens repeatedly. Terry Goodkind explains what a Mord-Sith is about a bill-zillion times throughout his series, and always with the same exact passage. I always skip it because it’s unnecessary. Detail is good; too much detail feels like the story is being stubbornly dragged out. Try to find some common ground between what’s too little and too much in a scene.

For example, if you spend a whole page talking about a tree, I’m probably going to skip through that rather quickly. And repetition can be a serious flaw in a story. For everything that is good and holy, don’t repeat yourself. I caught myself a few times in a previous manuscript with my protagonist explaining her problems repeatedly, and deleted all mention of said problems, allowing the reader to figure the problems out through the character’s failures and struggles instead. Show, don’t tell. (I was going to link to my post about showing instead of telling but I think imagined writing it, so next month I’ll probably touch upon the importance of showing instead of telling if I can’t find that blasted post before then.)

Happy writing,

Sandra

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4 thoughts on “Over-Explaining a Scene

  1. My rule is: if a concept appears more than once in my story, I edit all the occurances but one, the one that makes more sense in the most critical episode.

    Repeating ourselves in very commeno when we write first drafts. I have the same episode appear in two different places in my first draft of my trilogy and I know exactly it’s there twice. But that’s what editing is about. When you know the entire story, becuase you’ve written the entire first draft, deciding where an element belongs is so much easier 😉

    Like

    • Yes, exactly! 🙂 I read a story not too long ago (published by a big house, no less) where the same concept was explained three times over the course of two chapters. Really big mistake on the editor’s part, but the author should’ve been mindful of this, as well.

      Liked by 1 person

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