Friday, December 04, 2020

Writing: R.U.E.

Anyone who's taken a writing class or attended a writing conference has probably heard the initials R.U.E. I learned "resist the urge to explain" at my first real conference, when I sat in a group taught by Gayle Roper. She had each of us read a section of our work in progress, but didn't let us answer questions about it. The reason, of course, was because we wouldn't be present looking over the reader's shoulder to explain. We had to make it self-evident, and if it wasn't, we should rewrite it. The author should give just enough information for the reader to draw his/her own conclusion, but not so much that the person looking at the book bogs down with explanations. It's a fine line that we have to walk, and some are more successful than others.

Maybe your heroine is Amish, and she does something that those of us unfamiliar with their practices would find unusual. How do you work it into the story? Perhaps you use a word that isn't familiar. How do you explain its meaning without sending your reader scurrying off to look it up?

As a writer of mystery novels that have a medical component, I have a dual task. I have to sprinkle any necessary clues into the novel without being obvious about it. I also have the task of making it possible for the reader to follow along and understand any technical jargon--any "doctor talk" if you will--without being obvious about it. Thus far, I've been fairly successful, but every once in a while I find myself going too far. That's when I have to back off and tell myself, "resist the urge to explain."

Have you found this to be a problem in some books? Any tricks for hitting the middle ground, not going too far in either direction--not explaining enough or too much? I'd like to know.

5 comments:

Priscilla Bettis said...

Remember that book Watership Down? Adams created a whole rabbit language in that book. By the end we readers know 40 new rabbit-centric terms. I've been wondering lately how he did it without making the book boring. I'm going to have to re-read the book to figure it out.

Richard Mabry said...

Priscilla, I guess that's another example of RUE, creating 40 terms in an unfamiliar language and making their meaning clear. Glad it wasn't me that had to do it--I have enough trouble conveying the meaning of one term, such as "cardiomyopathy."

Patricia Bradley said...

Hey! I knew what cardiomyopathy was! Does that mean I get to be a doctor? :-) RUE was one of the first things my critique called me on after we became a critique group! I wanted to explain everything. :-) Great post, Richard.

Richard Mabry said...

Patricia, congratulations on knowing the meaning of cardiomyopathy. Just a bit over 3 11/12 years of study, and you get your degree. Thanks for your comment.

Patricia Bradley said...

The reason I'm familiar with it is that my mother-in-law and husband both suffered from it...among other things...