BrianWFoster’s Fourth Law of Writing

Fourth Law: Resist the Urge to Explain (RUE)

You’ll rue the day you don’t RUE (Sorry, couldn’t resist.  I know.  I’ll try harder.).

Over explaining takes many forms:

  1. Repeating yourself.  You want to make sure that the reader gets it, so you write the following: Joe’s heated voice pierced the night.  Sam winced at the angry tone.  “Heated voice” and “angry tone” show the same thing.  Trust your reader to pick up on the “heated voice” and just have Sam wince.  I especially see this problem a lot in dialogue.  “It’s okay.  You’ll be alright.”  Both statements express the same sentiment.  Keep your writing tight and get rid of one of them.
  2. Telling the reader what the character is feeling.  Adding emotion is important, but writing “Joe was mad” is not the way to do it.  Show the inciting event.  Show Joe’s reactions.  Let the reader make the connection.
  3. Bringing up an important point too many times.  Your character is given a medallion in the first chapter.  In the final chapter, that medallion is going to stop a spear thrust and save his life.  It’s probably a bad idea to not mention it somewhere in the middle.  However, this method is worse: Chap 2, the character looks at how pretty the medallion is; Chap 3, the medallion dangles from the character’s neck as he climbs on a horse; Chap 4, the medallion reflects the sun; etc.  Create a couple of situations where it makes sense that the character would notice it.  Another character hugs him, and the sharp sides press into the protagonist.  The character is trying to be quiet, and the medallion jingles.

It’s often said that beginners over explain because they don’t trust their reader.  This saying is true to some extent, but there’s also the fact that beginning writers don’t consider the impact of their words as much as experienced writers.  Consider each word carefully.  What does it tell the reader about your character and your story?  Once you get into this mindset, you’ll find that some of the issues with RUE go away.


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