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When and When Not to Explain things

I'm taking a break from my break to write this and then going back on my break.

So you write a story. You put it up; the grammar is fine, the plot is fine, etc etc. But it still gets deleted. You ask why, and get told this: you put not a single hint of explanation behind the events important to the story, albeit you were more than happy to explain the most minor, least important things in it.

Information is important. It's how we communicate, how we assess things, how we draw conclusions, etc. Effectively, we operate our entire lives off of information of some type; and stories are not different.

When NOT to explain things (Or, what we don't care about.)Edit

When writing your story, ask yourself a few minor questions:

  • Is it important?
  • Is it going to come back later?
  • Does it have anything to do with the story?
  • Does or can the reader actually care about it?

If you answered "no" to any of these questions, chances are the chosen subject is not something needing explanation. We don't care that the main character won a lot of awards; if it doesn't help the storyline, what point is there to it? It's just another thing we know that we don't care about, and that draws our attention away from your story.

A lot of people who do this kind of thing do it to lengthen out their stories: Don't. Explain what needs to be explained, for example:

HOW and WHY that typewriter gained a mouth (Or, what we do care about.)Edit

In a recent criticism that I gave, the author had a typewriter that was grinning. The problem: He never explained how or why it was grinning. Does it have a mouth? Does it have sentience? These are things we need to know. Not telling us the important stuff raises questions and forces us to presume things. And when these important things do happen to come back up later, we have no idea what you're even talking about.

Leaving us in the dark to try and "build suspense" doesn't work if you're doing so by not explaining something we NEED to know. We don't necessarily need to know about your monster; but we need to know why your monster does what it does. And even that can be kept behind with a good enough hook to replace it.

Take The Cell Phone Game. We don't actually see the monster in the story until the end; but the story isn't about the monster itself. The monster was of absolutely no importance to the story as much as the process surrounding why and when he struck. What kept you hooked wasn't the author ruining the monster; it was the curiousity of what happens when you "lose" the game (which was the monster). The cell phone game and the character's reactions were important; and these were explained in depth at just the right level. It's not lacking explanation on the characters and their actions (and other important stuff) that builds suspense. It's the end result of said actions.


Tell us what we want/need to know. Don't tell us things we don't care about.

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