Readers don’t want to be inundated with information unless they can immediately connect it to the bigger picture.
What does this mean for you as a writer? Just a few things:
1. Each chapter should have a main idea (or thesis) that you can articulate in one sentence. If the purpose of a chapter can’t be boiled down to one sentence, you have too many concepts in it. Break each of those one-thesis concepts into separate chapters.
2. Each section in a chapter should directly relate to the chapter’s thesis, and there should be some sort of continuity or theme to how the sections are organized. This means if you have a chapter about leadership, the sub-sections of that chapter should each have something in common. They might be different areas where you apply leadership, or different styles of leadership, or profiles of famous leaders from history, etc., but they should each share the same relationship with the chapter’s main topic. This makes it easy for a reader to categorize the subsections in their mind. If you have a whole bunch of different, unrelated subsections (two arenas where leadership is applied, three leadership styles, and four famous leader profiles), consider breaking the chapter up into smaller chapters to keep the different topics organized.
3. Each paragraph in a section should directly relate to the section’s theme. This includes amusing anecdotes, examples, counterexamples, and background information. When you share something like this, tell the reader exactly how it relates to the topic at hand. This will help them understand why you chose to include it without having to guess about your intentions. If a paragraph isn’t necessary, cut it out of the book.
In summary, your chapter organization and flow of information needs to present data to readers within a structure that allows them to immediately assign importance and relevance to the material. Don’t just open a chapter with a huge history lesson on the topic you’re about to cover–introduce the topic first, and then explain why the history is needed to understand the material that follows. Placing each segment into a larger framework will help the reader stay connected to what you’re saying.
No particular challenge this week. Just keep working on your book, bearing this advice in mind, and write up to this week’s word count goal. Remember, it’s just 225 words a day!
How are you introducing the information in your book? Share your experience in the comments!
*This Week’s Word Count*
Your book is as long as: The Constitution of the United States (not counting the amendments)
Sometimes what you leave out of your novel is just as important as what you put in.
Fictional worlds and people work best when they come across as rich, detailed creations that feel real. You want the reader to feel immersed in the story, and to do that, you have to provide them with lots of information.
HOWEVER (yes, it’s a big “however”), readers will quickly grow bored of your world and characters if you give them too much.
This means that every piece of information you introduce has to answer one question: How does this relate to what’s happening right now?
When you introduce a character, you don’t need to give their entire backstory before having them interact with the plot. Readers don’t yet know the character, so they have no reason to care if his father died when he was a child or if he’s a brilliant mathematician or if he’s the proud owner of an art collection. They have to see the character doing something–striving toward a goal–before they will invest the mental energy to get to know him.
Even after you’ve introduced a character, readers will either forget or feel annoyed by pieces of backstory or character development that don’t directly relate to the action that’s happening in the story. They will feel like these details came out of nowhere or seemed to be mentioned at random. You can avoid this reaction by connecting information to something happening in the present moment.
Want to show that your character has a cultured palate? Don’t just announce it to the reader or give a history of the places they’ve eaten; have an important plot-related conversation take place in a restaurant. Then the character can drop a few lines about their past culinary experiences without it seeming out of place. Want to reveal that a character speaks four languages? Put them in a situation where they need to translate for somebody in order to further their plot-related goals.The same thing applies to setting and bits of world-building. If a detail fits into the plot, share it. If it doesn’t, leave it out.
Obviously you won’t be able to get every piece of information into the book this way.
And that’s a good thing.
You are the author of your book. This means that you should know a lot more about the world of the book than your readers do. After all, you created it. Readers can feel the richness of a world when the author doesn’t feel the need to inundate them with information. Knowing that there’s something held back draws them in and makes them curious to learn more about the people and places you describe.
Everybody’s favorite counterexample to the “don’t go off on tangents about your world and characters” idea is J.R.R. Tolkien’s The Lord of the Rings. This book contains TONS of information about Middle-Earth that, while presented at a time when it can be related to the overall plot, sometimes goes on for multiple pages. Tolkien put huge amounts of detail into these books, so why don’t readers lose interest in the world he created?
Because for every detail he put in, he left even more out.
Look at how many expanded universe books there are to explain Middle-Earth’s history, cultures, and languages. The Lord of the Rings only scratches the surface of the amount of knowledge Tolkien had about his fictional universe. For every historical reference in the text, there are pages that could have been written about the details of the time period. For every Elvish word used in the story, there is an entire syntax and grammar system relegated to the appendices. I would guess that maybe ten percent of what Tolkien could have written in the book was actually included in the book. The rest was left out. And when you read The Lord of the Rings, you can sense that richness under the surface.
So don’t feel pressured to put everything you know into your book. Readers will follow your story better and connect to it more readily if it includes only what needs to be there.
No challenge this week! Just write! You’re doing great!
What sorts of details have you found it hard to cut out of your stories? Do you agree or disagree that paring down info is a good idea? Share your thoughts in the comments!
*This Week’s Word Count*
Your book is as long as: “To Build A Fire” by Jack London