1. howaboutamagictrick
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    howaboutamagictrick New Member

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    Does everything have to be explained?

    Discussion in 'Plot Development' started by howaboutamagictrick, Sep 12, 2011.

    Hello there, everybody. First time poster here.

    I've worked on my personal project for quite some time, and it's nearing completion, but one thing still confuses me:

    Do I have to explain every thing or every detail that could have some meaning as a background information of the plot? Something that is not vital in understanding the plot, but could shed light on relating events.

    For example:

    "He found a picture of two men, but did not know who they were."

    Or

    "I can't make any sense of the note. It just says 'beware of the blue pants'."

    Do I have to explain, at some point, who these men are or where is that picture coming from, or do I have to explain why someone would have to watch out for blue pants? If neither the men, the picture nor the pants are essential parts of the plot, but mostly just tools for setting the mood or teasing the reader.

    Is it bad writing if I leave the meaning of some details into obscurity, for the reader to guess or speculate at his/her will?
     
  2. Cogito
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    Cogito Former Mod, Retired Supporter Contributor

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    Some details can turn out to be red herrings, and never explained further.
     
  3. Melzaar the Almighty
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    Melzaar the Almighty Contributing Member Contributor

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    It depends if you want them to be red herrings or not. If you mention them the readers will expect there to be a reason for why you put that information in their head. Basically I see it as:

    Utterly plot-useless information may be conveyed as: extremely poetic descriptions and character building stuff, banter, without seeming like you're overloading the reader with pointless things. If every other line has a mention of a thing you never mention again, especially if you don't even use it for mood or character but simply just *have* it, the reader will be trying to remember all these things in case they're important later, and get pretty annoyed when they are not since you made them do so much unecessary work.

    red herrings: can be dropped in but have to be picked up on again later. The 2 examples you gave both look like they could be red herrings if they are just random descriptions, as you didn't focus on them or surround them with mood-conveying words to make them into scenery. By presenting them upfront in simple sentenecs you've created an expectation of use. Even if it's nt important you're now obliged to have someone at some point before the end say "Oh, they're just my uncles Bob and Sammy, that was their hunting lodge before you found it..." or "Funny story about that note... I took a few too many of those [previously plot important] painkillers before I went to do my laundry..." probably after the main character who'd been going around discovering things wails, "I understand all that, but how does THIS fit into what I now know!?"

    And then there's background info, which is similar, but instead of waiting until the end you explain it right away. So the guy looks up from the photo and his friend takes it from him and goes right into who Bob and Sammy are. Background info should usually contain one plot important thing, so maybe Bob and Sammy themselves are totally irrelevant but one of them is holding a gun and later they find it and then it's not odd for a gun to just show up because we know Bob, amongst all the other background info, happened to keep his old army rifle in top condition. You just spin a whole extra and seemingly useless story around it.

    Then there's making those items into key plot points, where you don't need to explain them at all, because your stark introductory language of "Look there's a thing here" is basically what the reader needs to keep a mental inventory of what might be important, and then you can forget the item until it's whipped out in the heat of the moment and saves the day or whatever.
     
  4. SilverWolf0101
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    SilverWolf0101 Active Member

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    It's mostly the trick of balancing it all I suppose.

    If it's not important to the plot, then most times you wouldn't dare add it in case you were trying to throw too much on the reader. However, if its something the character notices, then it might be worth adding. Like with the picture. Now I don't know the story idea or what's going on. But let's say it goes something like this;
    It's not important to the plot at all, but it is something to character notices and therefore mentioned. Plus it doesn't really bother the readers that it's there, they're following the character, or even living what the character lives. So try to keep things like that in mind when deciding if you should or shouldn't add something.

    Just try not to add too much to the story. Adding too much turns the reader away from it, it's like a bad info dump, just without all the info, only it's useless details.
     
  5. SilverWolf0101
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    SilverWolf0101 Active Member

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    It's mostly the trick of balancing it all I suppose.

    If it's not important to the plot, then most times you wouldn't dare add it in case you were trying to throw too much on the reader. However, if its something the character notices, then it might be worth adding. Like with the picture. Now I don't know the story idea or what's going on. But let's say it goes something like this;
    It's not important to the plot at all, but it is something to character notices and therefore mentioned. Plus it doesn't really bother the readers that it's there, they're following the character, or even living what the character lives. So try to keep things like that in mind when deciding if you should or shouldn't add something.

    Just try not to add too much to the story. Adding too much turns the reader away from it, it's like a bad info dump, just without all the info, only it's useless details.
     
  6. Mallory
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    Mallory Mallegory. Contributor

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    Tread on light ground here. Very light ground.

    For one, the absolute last thing you want to do is overshare on the meaning of important clues. This is especially the case if you're writing a mystery or horror novel. Readers like to have their mind stretched and have to piece together the clues themselves. Lots of red herrings are important if you want to create a suspenseful mystery element, and no, you don't need to explain each one (although it really can only be decided on a case-by-case basis for each clue, how much time was spent developing mystery about it, whether or not it ties into something else, etc).

    What readers HATE is when all the clues are spelled out in their face, or when the bulk of the clues all point to the correct bad guy. Don't insult their intelligence.

    Also, and this is especially the case for horror, leaving some ends open gives readers questions to think about. Open-ended stories allow readers to analyze, discuss, go back and read for clues, etc, and if it's horror, then it makes the story even scarier because people will fill in the gaps with their own worst fears. What's the scariest thing in a person's imagination will be far scarier to that person than something a writer or director could come up with and spell out.

    Be careful though - there IS a distinction between leaving open ends in a well-crafted way, versus being lazy and copping out of writing a satisfying resolution. I can't make this decision on a book I haven't read, but you probably can, being the writer. Use your best judgment.
     
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  7. howaboutamagictrick
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    howaboutamagictrick New Member

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    Thanks for your replies. Very insightful. I just have to do my best to maintain a good balance throughout the story.
     
  8. Protar
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    Protar Active Member

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    I don't think everything needs to explain. Perhaps list several oddities in the room (make it interesting though.) and have one or two of them pop up later. Personally I really enjoy description scenes so I don't mind having just non plot related items described briefly. But again that's an excellent opportunity to fold in red herrings and plot important items.
     
  9. Reggie
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    Reggie I Like 'Em hot "N Spicy Contributor

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    In particular, it would be fine to tell us how a character is feeling, though it does not necessarily have anything to do with the plot, in my opinion. Unfortunately, as a screenwriter, that can't be done, like a novlist can. Feelings in a novel, in my opinon, may be important. Don't overdue this though. It may add too much information that will take the reader off the chapter. I cannot give you any best advices on this one, because I myself do not understand the mechanics of adding material that is not necessary to the plot.
     

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