Time to Over Explain Over-Explaining

Over-explaining is a bad habit. It demonstrates either a lack of confidence in yourself or in the reader; it wastes words; and it increases the potential for the reader to lose immersion in your work.

I place over-explaining in two categories:

1. Redundancy –

Her stomach growled. She was hungry.

With the first (showing) statement, the author is clearly trying to indicate that the POV character is hungry, but he doesn’t feel that the showing is strong enough. His solution: add a redundant (telling) statement.

That’s horrible.

The proper method of correction is one of the following:

a. Leave the showing statement alone. Yes, it’s not entirely clear. However, most readers are going to pick up on the meaning with contextual clues.
b. Add more emphasis to the showing statement. Turn that simple declaration into a paragraph involving hunger pangs eating her stomach from the inside.
c. Delete the showing. Perhaps a simple declaration of her hunger is the best bet. It’s clear and concise. Yes, it’s cheating a bit, but, if it works…

Note that redundancy can take many forms. Perhaps there are two showing statements, or two telling ones, that say the same thing. Another common mistake would be to have a showing or telling statement that conveys the same information as the surrounding dialogue.

2. Repetition –

Chapter 2 – Group acquires the Weapon of Awesomeness which they plan to use against the Force of Evilness
Chapter 5 – “Watch that bag closely, Bob. As you know, it contains the Weapon of Awesomeness. If we don’t have it when we come up against the Force of Evilness, we’re toast.”
Chapter 10 – I can’t believe I almost dropped the Weapon of Awesomeness into the Lake of Fireness. What would we have done if we didn’t have it at the lair of the Force of Evilness?

You get the picture.

If you have an important item, you need to occasionally focus a POV characters thoughts on it in a natural way, but you don’t want to continually bring up details about it. Emphasize the important detail once, and, after that, just show that the party still has it.

Another example of this is from A Memory of Light. Sanderson states quite clearly early in the book that most of the men Lan is leading don’t have actual Malkier blood. He then goes on to bring up this point twice more. Worst of all, it didn’t even turn out to be that important. I got it the first time. By the third, it completely broke me out of the story as I’m thinking, “Why the crap is he telling me this again?”

Hopefully, this post will help you identify over-explaining in your writing. When you find it, eliminate it with extreme prejudice.


One thought on “Time to Over Explain Over-Explaining

  1. I think Sanderson probably forgot he mentioned it in the course of the 98734987235987235 page book. I’ve been working on a what-the-reader-knows-and-when document to go along with my series and I have been removing some of the redundancies that have been emphasized. I still edge to over-explaining, I assume because my experience teaching shows me just how little people pay attention, but it’s been getting better. Anyway, as I’m writing the sequel, the reader-knowledge document has been invaluable. It’s nice to know exactly when the reader found something out, and it immediately alerts you to redundancies and you can decide for yourself if they’re worthwhile.

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