Are you a stripper? Do you reveal too much too soon? How can writing be like a striptease? An exotic dancer removes one piece of clothing at a time, slowly revealing what’s underneath. An author should do the same with her words. There wouldn’t be as much appeal if the dancer came onto the stage already undressed. Or if she quickly removed her clothes and tossed the pile at the audience. Hey, naked is naked, so there will always be some interest there. However, what the men want to see (and this goes the same for women watching male strippers) is the slow, drawn out removal of every stitch of clothing. They love to imagine what’s underneath and anticipate how soon they’ll be able to see the woman’s entire body. It’s all about the build up.
The same can be applied to writing. Readers don’t want the author to dump backstory at them or tell them too much too soon. They want the opportunity to solve the mystery, understand the character’s personality, predict what he might do next, and wait for the outcome. They want to feel compelled to read further because they need to know more. If everything is dished out to them in the beginning, they’ll be too full for dessert.
The problem is that writers are often too eager to tell their story. They love their characters and their plot so much, they want the reader to know everything from the get go. But if they took the time to nicely spread everything out over the course of the story instead, not only would they satisfy the reader, they’d probably see there’s quite a bit of information that doesn’t need to be shared after all. Just because the writer has taken the time to fill out character sheets and learned all kinds of neat things about their characters, doesn’t mean the reader needs to know every last detail.
Withholding information from the reader creates suspense, so in theory, all novels have elements of suspense in them. What should the writer reveal and when, and what should she keep to herself? Those are tricky questions to answer. A writer needs to be able to be honest with herself and ask, “Is this information necessary? If I exclude it, will my story still make sense? Does the reader need to know this right now or can I hint at it and reveal more later?” Unfortunately, these are hard questions to answer. That’s why writers should have a critique partner or a freelance editor in their corner—someone who knows the craft of writing and who’s far enough removed from the story (and the writer’s personal life) to make a qualified assessment.
How do you know what to reveal and when? Do you struggle with finding a nice balance?