Anyway, in the course of our discussion, the author, a talented writer, and an all-around great guy IMHO, admitted that he was struggling with how much of what was really going on he should reveal. (I don't want to say too much about it, other than that it is a fantasy set in a world that has seen better days, and that the protagonist, struggling to get home to his family, unwittingly becomes part of a larger struggle with worldwide implications. **There. That was vague enough, I think**.) See, in the author's mind, the magic wasn't the point of the story, nor was the mythology, or any mechanism by which the world is saved or doomed, or even how the world got the way it is in the first place. Nope, the important thing was the character, his journey, and the choices he makes. Everything else is just...world building. (Which he is very good at, just so's you know.)
This week I also finished a very good horror novel by fellow Bloodshot Books alum Jeremy Hepler, called The Boulevard Monster. Again, I don't want to give too much away, but in it, the antagonist seems to have a supernatural connection to blue jays. It's never explained how or why, and I kinda wanted to know, because they are used in very cool and clever ways, and it's just so...different. Dollars to donuts, the author knows the answer, and can tell you everything about it. But he chose not to. Because that's not the story, and in the end, it didn't matter. Not knowing allowed me to use my own imagination, to, in a way, bring something of my own to the table.
As the writer, you may know every single detail about the characters, places, and events that make up the warp and woof of your story, but all that knowledge can't go into your book, and sometimes, it shouldn't, even if it might please the readers. For one thing, putting everything you know about your story will bloat your book beyond all reason. Those details may help you write more well-rounded characters, but if they don't move the story forward, you don't need 'em. And the fact is, I've come across very few problems in my writing that couldn't be fixed by cutting something out. But you also have to decide what you want the reader to walk away with. I wrote a sci-fi story about first contact where you never actually make direct contact. The story was about how humans behave given the certain knowledge that mankind is not alone, not flying saucers, little green men, or gee-whiz technology. So I left that stuff out. Besides, I wanted the reader to identify with the characters who shared in wondering just who the hell was out there, and why they are keeping themselves to themselves. Heh.
So, after you've written the first draft of your magnum opus - the one in which you've thrown in everything including the kitchen sink - and begun your editing and rewrites, make sure that you keep an eye out for what to take out: the info dumps that weigh your reader down with dry facts, pulling her rudely out of the story; the bloated bits of fluff that don't move the story along, but just sit there stinking up the place, and finally, the parts of the story - well crafted, sleek, sexy - that may seem like a perfect fit, but which mislead the reader, ultimately drawing them away from the story you're actually trying to tell.
In your quest to become a better writer, remember that it can be just as important to know what not to write, as it is to know what you should.
Until next time...