I’ve read several books recently that lob information at the reader with alarming, barefaced gusto. There have been literally paragraphs, and pages of expositional text where the writer is telling me almost in voice-over style, what is going on in the character’s life. It’s boring. It’s boring to read books like that, and it is completely unnecessary. How do I know that? Well, because I’ve read other authors works that communicate the same level of information in a way that I don’t even notice.
It’s like watching a conjurer pull off a slight-of-hand trick; the ones that take your breath away are the ones that hide the mechanics of the trick so well, you forget your being fooled.
That should be the goal; if you’re going to flat-out tell the reader something do it in a way that they aren’t going to notice. Timothy Zahn does remarkably well with giving the reader information in Night Train to Rigel without it being noticeable. The primary way he does this, is through the point of view; Frank Compton is telling the story in first-person like Sam Spadedoes in The Maltese Falcon. Because the primary protagonist is talking directly to the reader (saying I did this, I thought that, I fell this) the information sharing is done in his wry narration and dialogue. Frank Compton has a mouth and it serves him well. Zahn also gives him a partner very early on in the story, so he has someone to talk to and this makes the passing of information from character to reader even less noticeable.
From him, I’ve learned two very important things:
1.) Choose your style of narration carefully (first person, third person, limited first person, limited third person) because it will affect how you pass information to the reader.
2.) Give your hero someone to talk to, even if it’s just a cat, because the passing information to the reader is nearly invisible in dialogue.
Tonight, I’ll finish this post, and stay tuned for a cool announcement about my 100th post (this would be it!)
3.) Even if you are writing a first person narrative you don’t have to have your main character tell the reader everything. In fact, having your protagonist withhold information can build suspense and add to their three-dimensional quality. Frank Compton doesn’t share* everything about himself, though he hints at an important issue which comes back later and bites him, hard.
*note this is not a ‘unreliable narrator’ though they share some of the same qualities they are, different.
So those are three things I learned from Night Train to Rigel, I’ll share more insights as I gather them.
Now, onto the really cool announcement!
Because I’ve reached my 100th post, and because you have toughed it out with me, sticking with me through the thicks and thins of this blog it is my delight and my privilege to open it up for a guest blog post on a topic pertaining to writing!
If you are writer, a word tickler, an ink-dabbler, or just someone who can not stop reading the dictionary and want to share your insights, e-mail me at firstname.lastname@example.org and in the title of the e-mail write “100th post guest blog slot” Make sure in the body of the e-mail you tell me
a.) your real name
b.) what you want to write about (this is the sizzle, you’ve got to make me go OOOOHHHHH! How cool! I MUST have them write about that on my blog)
c.) what date would be best for you to post
I’ve got a really busy weekend this week, so I won’t be looking at ideas until Monday of next week (August 13th) but if I pick your topic then I’ll e-mail you with the details no later than August 15th, and the person I pick to guest-blog in this Scarlet Inkwell will be featured and promoted all week-long through MY social media. They will also have a permanent link to their blog/website ( if they have one ) on my “spatter pages”
Coram Deo Scribes!