Over-Explaining Cons

I’ve done a post about over-explaining ideas and objects before, but I feel the concept needs revisiting.

I’ve been reading The Alchemyst by Michael Scott and there’s quite a bit of references in the novel to ancient legends and myths that are inserted between the action-y content of the book. Now imagine reading about an epic battle between magical creatures, and having every other paragraph be an explanation of the origins of the creature and their fictional history.

That would be pretty annoying right?

Well, Michael Scott doesn’t do that. He kept it simple by giving the reader the creatures name (on some occasions) and a quick description: the creature has the body of a man and the head of cat. While I like to know what I’m reading about, I don’t want a biography interrupting the plot of the novel. The Alchemyst would be rather unsuccessful if Michael Scott didn’t write it the way he had: He didn’t over-explain the content of the book, and he didn’t under-explain it either.

I think that happy medium needs to be reached, no matter what the genre. For a fantasy novel I don’t need to know where Aslan came from or how he has the ability to create Narnia, I just need to know that he has control over a strong magic. For a science fiction novel I don’t need to know how the science behind an Infinite Improbability Drive, I just need to know that it’s a form of transportation that takes you through every single reality and area in the universe before arriving at your destination. For realistic fiction I don’t need to know the thought process that led Margo Roth Spiegleman to run away, I just need to know that she had plans for it.

Imagine how The Magician’s Nephew, The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy, and Paper Towns would have turned out if everything was over-explained. They would be lesser novels than they are.

So if you’re writing a story about people having the ability to access the internet inside their minds, I don’t necessarily need to know how that ability came to exist. Explain what you need to, leave the rest up to the reader’s imagination.

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