Friday, August 23, 2019

Writing: Too Much Information?

The eighth rule for writers from Kurt Vonnegut is "Give your readers as much information as possible as soon as possible. To heck with suspense. " As I recall, Vonnegut felt that, if for some reason it were necessary, the reader should be able to finish writing the book. I'm going to take some exception to this.

The late Donald Westlake did a pretty good job of writing mysteries. His "Dortmunder" books are quite good, featuring a guy who, if he didn't have bad luck, would have no luck at all. But they are extremely entertaining (or, at least, I found them so). He followed the plan he called "push fiction"--we'd call it writing by the seat of our pants. His philosophy was that if the writer didn't know what was coming next, the reader couldn't, either.

My wife, who's been my first reader through all my books,  got after me about keeping information to myself. Since I knew what the backstory was, I sometimes neglected to share it with my readers. I had to work to get over this, but I think I've finally done it. I've learned to sprinkle clues (plus a few "red herrings") throughout my mysteries so that I don't end up introducing a new character as the end as the "bad guy," or having the books end with "Deus et machina" (God out of the machine--used in some Greek tragedies to end them by sudden intervention beyond that of the actors).

There's a fine line in mystery between giving the reader all the information and not enough information. It's tough to achieve, but then again, that's what keeps us writing...and reading.

What's your opinion about Vonnegut's eighth rule? Let me know. I'd like to hear it.


Priscilla Bettis said...

As a reader, info dumps up front bore me, so I don't agree with Vonnegut's eighth rule . . . maybe he was speaking with his tongue firmly embedded in his cheek.

Richard Mabry said...

Writers are warned about info-dumps. Authors who write mysteries have to walk a tight rope between giving too much information and not enough. 'Tis a puzzlement.

Patricia Bradley said...

It seems now that we are told to not tell too much, to make the reader ask why. I know I'll keep reading to find the answers. ;-)

Richard Mabry said...

Patricia, it seems that every writer (both published and not-yet-so) is looking for the sure-fire, can't miss secret for writing. I don't have it yet. If you do, let me know and I'll share it.

Patricia Bradley said...

I wish! lol