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On the Distribution of Information. Keeping Readers on their Toes. Introduction. Information is an important commodity in any circumstances. Governments pay heavy prices for it, to know what’s in the offing before making any decisions.
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On the Distribution of Information Keeping Readers on their Toes
Introduction • Information is an important commodity in any circumstances. • Governments pay heavy prices for it, to know what’s in the offing before making any decisions. • Businesses hire people whose only work is to take it apart, modify it, explain it, apply it. • Sometimes, intelligence agents die for it.
Information as Author’s Responsibility • Information is equally—perhaps still more—important to a professional author. • If you think about it, as an author, you’re not selling paper, ink or glue. Each of these media is only just that—a medium. Nothing more. The important part is the information recorded in those media. You’re really dealing in pure information as a writer. You’re selling words, arranged into a work of art. More than that—you’re selling a part of your soul. • Information theory states that representations and reality can’t bridge the gap between them on their own. Intelligence is needed to bridge the gap. (This is what you’re getting paid for as an author.)
Responsibility, continued • As an author, you are dealing in information. • As such, you need to be aware of when to give information and when to withhold it. • This is particularly important when writing suspense or mystery. • First of all, you must give out information on a need-to-know basis. Only reveal information as your reader needs to know it. This keeps the reader intrigued, by drawing him or her on into the story. • Keep your reader curious, and he or she will keep on reading.
General points on information distribution • To keep your readers interested, you must keep them curious. You must keep them guessing. • Keep them asking questions such as, who are these people? what are their motives? what are their goals? Keep them interested. • This is especially necessary at the beginning of a book, when the readers have not yet fallen in love with the characters for their own sakes. Later on it’s not quite so necessary, but it’s still important.
Suspense, Thriller, and Mystery • When writing suspense or thriller novels, always give out as little information as possible. It’s okay to be confusing! Also, you have to be extremely cautious so as not to accidentally foreshadow something that should be a shock to the reader. Especially since you want your readers to actually be surprised when they get to that point! • Suspense can be a challenge, especially if you have a hard time keeping your secrets. • When writing a mystery, you must give out information only as the characters discover it. • When dealing with someone who is inordinately brilliant (such as Holmes), if you want surprise at an ending, you need someone else for a viewpoint character in order to keep your secrets. (This is also true of any genre.) Doctor Watson was pure brilliance on Doyle’s part!
Fantasy, Science Fiction, and Speculative Fiction • When writing science fiction, speculative fiction, or fantasy, you may find yourself needing to explain many things. • If you want your readers to be surprised by a magical/technological wonder, then you must not discuss it beforehand. • If you want them to recognize it when it appears, by all means do explain it beforehand. • In many ways, a “magic” (or science) class may be helpful for the purposes of explanation. Teaching a rookie in the book itself serves more purposes than one--it teaches a protagonist necessary skills, and also invites the reader on their “first step into a larger world.”
Using Prologues Effectively • There are people who argue that using prologues is a waste of time and energy. Personally, I do not endorse this view. A prologue can be a great place to introduce your villain, hero, the main conflict, etc., or to start up the suspense with an intriguing first line. It’s also a place where you can withhold information to your heart’s content, and get your readers guessing, get them intrigued, make your book into a real page-turner. • As far as information goes, your prologue should be information-starved. Describe. Depict. But don’t give anything away. The prologue should be a real teaser. • A prologue is a chance to start a story that doesn’t pick up until years later, using a time gap.
To Recap… • Use information distribution to your advantage. Withhold or tell at will, but be mindful of the impression you want to make. • Use organic techniques (such as classes and explanations to a character who doesn’t know) to seamlessly introduce new information. • Don’t neglect the use of a prologue if you feel comfortable using one!