Forget What You Know

One of the most hugely-criticized tendencies of first-time (or even long-time) writers is the INFO-DUMP. I’ve had a lot of practice with that. The advice is, simply, explain what’s going on only at the moment when a reader/viewer needs to know it, and cares. As the creator of the world, a writer is naturally eager to paint the entire panoramic mural of the world and the main character’s history that you’ve cleverly conjured-up. But saving that for when your audience really needs to know, for orientation or mystery-solving is critical.

But I’m also discovering that, especially when crafting the opening scene of a tale, it’s far too easy to drown a first-time reader with unfamiliar facts, names, and so on that aren’t essential to the scene. Raise too many questions and you’ll loose them. If your first scene requires a glossary and cast-of-characters list, you’re not enticing the reader, you’re lecturing. Most readers can handle the cognitive load of a great story, but not all at once. It’s the discovery that’s fun.

When your writer-brain is alive with the richness of the world and its inhabitants, it is extremely challenging to forget it all. But you must switch your POV to that of a first-time reader’s brain, who comes at your tale knowing nothing (or possibly just the log-line on the book cover or a review), otherwise you’re probably doomed.

However, during the opening, delivering a tease — a passing mention of an unexpected element, something to light a spark, a promise of more to come — is terrific. Essential, even. Call the tease an INFO-TICKLE.