“If my doctor told me I had only six minutes to live.... I'd type a little faster.”
Isaac Asimov

author: Nicole J. LeBoeuf

actually writing blog

Day 10: Avoiding the "Well, Duh" Reaction
Sat 2007-11-10 14:46:55 (in context)
  • 16,811 words (if poetry, lines) long

There is an art to withholding information from characters and readers. There's a line beyond which lies the hell of Authorial Contrivance and the "Well, Duh!" reaction. We want to stay on the correct side of that line.

It's only natural that the author knows more than the characters and the reader. The author knows the whole story as one complete thing, whereas the reader is being told the story bit by bit and the characters are living it as it unfurls. But after that things get a little hairy. Some things the characters know but the reader doesn't. Some things the reader knows but the characters don't. Some characters know more than others about certain things.

And eventually everyone discovers stuff. Managing that discovery convincingly is an art.

So here's the thing. The main character's mother was, for all intents and purposes, a supernatural being. She wielded some remarkable powers which were as capable of causing tragedy as triumph. Our main character knows nothing of this, and the woman raising her--who was very close to the MC's mother but won't tell the MC for fear of the MC asking questions--would like to keep it that way. But at the same time, she is scared witless that the main character will inherit both those powers and the related tragedies. In today's scene, these conflicting goals (to keep the MC in the dark, but to forewarn the MC against catastrophe) cause the tension to escalate for both characters. The MC just wants to borrow the car and go on a date; her guardian is scared of the entire idea of the MC experiencing sexystuffs because the MC's mother had a way of causing fatalities when her emotions got out of control.

And here I am knowing everything about it and hating the conversation I'm writing because everything seems far too obvious. "Jeez, I'm writing an MC with an INT roll of 6! Surely she should be able to see through her guardian's lies about the extent to which she knew the MC's mother. Surely she should be able to figure out what her guardian's worried about? And surely any reader can see through what's up with that whole not-so-imaginary friend business, what with the NSIF going on about 'I knew her before.' I mean, well, duh!"

These sorts of insecurities will probably only be assuaged by the reactions of a beta reader. And beta readers aren't getting a hold of this in November, let me tell you. They may never. (You'll notice there's still no excerpt posted at my NaNoWriMo Profile.)

If the above sounds kind of cryptic, it's meant to be. I'm still not ready to get very specific here. I'm mainly just whining. (See? This post falls under the Whining category.) I am not likely to get less cryptic tomorrow, either. The stuff I'm really shy about letting anyone read is coming up in the next few scenes. But it will then be followed by several months (in story time) of the (relatively) boring time-passing stuff that I never bothered thinking about before (because it wasn't emotionally compelling to a daydreaming high-schooler). That might be safe to share. It might even be less boring than I fear. We'll have to see.