Why Are You Telling Me This?

There are actually a lot of good answers to the question: “Why are you telling me this.” I once heard the brilliant (and recently departed) Mike Nichols say “Because it’s funny,” is perfectly acceptable. However, there are just as many wrong answers. I think much of the bloat in fantasy (especially of the doorstop, epic variety) comes from authors reaching the conclusion that if something is cool enough, then of course they should be telling the reader. But that’s really not enough, is it?

An early critique we received from a friend was that she didn’t believe a lot of the things we were telling her early on would ever pay off. She was right an uncomfortable number of times, but it was exactly the sort of thing we needed to hear. Primarily by shedding passages that accomplished nothing worthwhile, we trimmed a 210,000-word manuscript down to 164,000 even while adding a significant character.

Think about some of the movies that had you squirming in your seat and checking your watch. (Yeah, I’m looking at you, Peter Jackson.) For instance, the second I saw Radaghast in the first Hobbit movie, I couldn’t understand at all why Peter Jackson was telling me any of that. On the other hand, David Yates and his screenwriter made a big improvement when adapting Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix. He massively trimmed the opening, which is one of the most tedious sections in a series I do rather enjoy. The book takes 5 chapters and nearly 100 pages getting Harry to Grimmauld Place so he can get caught up via a massive infodump. And what follows that? Over 20 pages of cleaning. Cleaning! Once you have read the book, you can see JK Rowling was hiding something (that I won’t spoil just in case there’s someone who hasn’t read the books or seen the movies) under layers of red herrings. But more than 20 pages of red herrings is not the kind of answer I’m looking for when I ask: “Why are you telling me this?”

So, why am I telling you this now? Because when I sat down today to blog, every idea I came up with sounded boring even to me. All I could envision was the handful of folks who read this blog talking to their computers (or smartphones, tablets, whatever). And each of them said the same thing: “Why are you telling me this?” A writer’s first duty is to tell the reader something worthwhile. That something can be an interesting fact, a new interpretation of an old thought, or the meaning of life. Of course, “Because it’s entertaining,” is a fine something worthwhile, and thank goodness–entertaining is hard enough without having to change the way all of mankind sees the world.

S

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