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Thread: RUE: Resist the Urge to Explain

  1. #1
    The Appleton House ccarver30's Avatar
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    Question RUE: Resist the Urge to Explain

    I discovered this phrase in Self-Editing for Fiction Writers by Browne/King and keep coming across examples as I am editing.

    Example:
    She clutched onto his forearm in order for him to hear her pleas.

    It's awful. I know.

    I feel this is even borderline:

    He flipped up the collar on his coat to shield himself from the wind.


    Does anyone else have to catch themselves from explaining TOO much??

  2. #2
    Totally Ninja! quickWit's Avatar
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    No.

    Grill me a cheese.

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    practical experience, FTW Jessica_312's Avatar
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    Sure, all the time. I think plenty of things merit explanation, however, there are many times I catch myself explaining obvious things that the reader should pick up from context. Mainly I just have a bad habit of being wordy, and I'm trying to fix that
    "The road to hell is paved with adverbs" - Stephen King

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    The Crazy Man in the Sun. Feel me. WillSauger's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by quickWit View Post
    No.

    Ditto.

    One of the main comments I get is that I'm not explaining enough.
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  5. #5
    practical experience, FTW LJD's Avatar
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    Occasionally. But I find I need to explain more just as frequently--I have a pretty bare-bones writing style.

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    Likes metaphors mixed, not stirred Chris P's Avatar
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    I think I'm getting better at not doing that, especially like the first example; explaining the character's inner environment when I could use action or dialog much more effectively. I've had to work at it, though.

    LJD: I have a bare bones style too, now. But I've found I'm really intolerant of wordy descriptions now. A page and a half to describe the garage and everything in it? I used to think that was cool to paint the reader a vivid picture but now I just get annoyed that I've had to wade through all that.
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    Sometimes I explain when I shouldn't and don't explain when I should.

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    USA: 239 years & a day Chase's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by WillSauger View Post
    One of the main comments I get is that I'm not explaining enough.
    My writing is usually taciturn, too, but every now and then my wonderful editor says, "We get it, Chase. Put your two-by-four away and believe the reader is smarter than you think." She's always spot on.

  9. #9
    Tell it like it Is Susan Littlefield's Avatar
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    Not a whole lot. If we already know what is going on in the scene, no explanation is necessary when he grabs her forearm or he puts his collar up.
    Last edited by Susan Littlefield; 01-10-2013 at 08:24 AM.
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    practical experience, FTW gell214's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by adm View Post
    Sometimes I explain when I shouldn't and don't explain when I should.
    Same here.
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    practical experience, FTW Sunflowerrei's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by adm View Post
    Sometimes I explain when I shouldn't and don't explain when I should.
    Me, too.
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  12. #12
    figuring it all out
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    I usually write something and then go through realising i can cut all my sentences in half basically.

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    Time Traveler mfarraday's Avatar
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    i think it's a good idea to 'economize' and make things concise/less wordy, and i agree with the basic principle that you shouldn't overexplain. but i've also run into writing that explains NOTHING, and it can get tiring trying to figure out what's going on. sometimes it gets to the point where i finally give up.

  14. #14
    Shooting stars. lolchemist's Avatar
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    It's okay, you're allowed to explain sometimes as long as it isn't distracting or annoying to the reader. I mean maybe the guy was popping his collar to look cute and failing rather than to shield himself from the cold! And maybe the girl was grabbing the guy so that she could feel his sexy forearm. Explanations are important!

    Anyway, don't over-think it. You will edit those sentences out once you're doing revisions anyways.

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    practical experience, FTW LJD's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by Chris P View Post
    LJD: I have a bare bones style too, now. But I've found I'm really intolerant of wordy descriptions now. A page and a half to describe the garage and everything in it? I used to think that was cool to paint the reader a vivid picture but now I just get annoyed that I've had to wade through all that.
    I never much liked those. That's why I write the way I do

  16. #16
    practical experience, FTW rwm4768's Avatar
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    I generally prefer to stay on the light side in both explanation and description. I'll include some parts like the example in first drafts, but then those are usually the parts that get cut in subsequent drafts (unless they really seem necessary).

  17. #17
    I find ur lack of faith disturbing mellymel's Avatar
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    I did this a lot when I first started writing and didn't know better. I've gotten a lot better with experience and writing more novels and have learned a ton from my beta readers who have forced me to be more conscientious of those newbie type mistakes. I will occasionally slip into it in first drafts (I still consider myself a semi-newb) when I'm just trying to get my story down, but will filter all that extraneous stuff out when I go through it.
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    The Appleton House ccarver30's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by lolchemist View Post
    It's okay, you're allowed to explain sometimes as long as it isn't distracting or annoying to the reader. I mean maybe the guy was popping his collar to look cute and failing rather than to shield himself from the cold! And maybe the girl was grabbing the guy so that she could feel his sexy forearm. Explanations are important!

    Anyway, don't over-think it. You will edit those sentences out once you're doing revisions anyways.
    Novel is 19th century England and that's her brother's forearm. LMAO this made me chuckle.

  19. #19
    writer, rider, reader...ex-pat! BethS's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by ccarver30 View Post
    I feel this is even borderline:

    He flipped up the collar on his coat to shield himself from the wind.

    Depends. If you've already said it's windy, then no need to explain why he flips the collar up. If wind or cold has not been mentioned, then I'd wonder why the author bothered to describe such a trivial action.

  20. #20
    Huh. kkbe's Avatar
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    I did in the novel before this one, to the point where I was describing weird shit like my mc reaches over to turn a knob. Lord have mercy, thank god for beta readers.
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  21. #21
    deceives Tocotin's Avatar
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    Not this kind of overexplaining, no. I think it can be avoided if you make effort to really describe what you see - and what you want the reader to notice with you - when writing a scene. The reader will get what's going on and why, only from watching the surroundings/situation. The girl feels anxious, so she grabs the guy's arm. If there is more than one way to interpret her action, that's good, and it'll help you in plot and character development as well.
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  22. #22
    Resident Alien Reziac's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by sharpyetblunt View Post
    I usually write something and then go through realising then realise i can cut all my sentences in half basically.
    Sorry, when I read that I just couldn't resist.

    Me, I have the opposite problem... I often don't explain enough. My characters are telepaths, why shouldn't my readers be?
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  23. #23
    all the feels, ALL OF THEM itsaplane's Avatar
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    I'm probably guilty of this. I also tend to be really wordy.
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  24. #24
    practical experience, FTW treehugger's Avatar
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    Not exactly what you're asking about, but I have a tendency to overwrite in my first drafts, partly so that I can see the scene more clearly in my head. So I might have a paragraph in which I choreograph every move of my character and every expression that flickers across their face and every thought in their head, and then in the edits later I end up shortening it to a sentence or two. Not the most efficient way of going about things, and it's something I'm trying to work on.

    With the sort of examples you posted, I'd probably find some way to make the explanation mean something--explanation is not always bad--and rearrange the sentence a bit. Something like, "The sharp January wind bit into his bare cheeks, and he flipped up the collar of his coat and tucked his chin to his chest." This way the wind is more action-y, you've set the scene a bit more, and you've given the reader a reason for the collar flipping in a more natural way.
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  25. #25
    New Fish; Learning About Thick Skin ExitTheKing's Avatar
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    Guilty. Guilty. Guilty. Though I'm just as bad about not explaining enough sometimes.

    It's always fun to look back when editing and go, "What? Who cares?" Delete it and on to the next sentence.

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