Saturday, August 18, 2012

Playing Fair with Readers

Forensics team at murder scene
Hmmm. Question. How much information do you have to give the reader? I believe you have to play fair and let the reader know what the main character knows. The detective can’t find a note under the calendar that gives her a major clue and not share the information with the reader.
Withholding important information from the reader, things the main character learns, is cheating in my opinion. It can be up to the reader to put things together and figure out the answer, but the information should be there so she has the same chance as the main character to solve the problem.
Planting clues before you need them is a good way to hide them in plain sight. If you slide them in with something more dramatic or attention-getting, the reader is likely to focus on the dramatic event and not remember the clue.
I'm working on the ending of a story now, and I have a scene with a body. The main character doesn’t know who it is at first, but she sees something that she connects with one of the other characters. No one has seen the person’s face yet, but she remembers the something. The reader saw it when she did, so he or she has the same chance to remember. But I don’t spell it out for a while. Is that fair? I think it is. But you can decide in November when Time of Death comes out. 


Polly said...

I agree, Ellis, although there are times I use information the character knows but has not yet shared, as a chapter cliffhanger. The secret info doesn't hang in the air long but long enough to create a modicum of mystery. Maybe it's cheating, but I hope the reader wants to turn the page and see what happens next. Then I cheat again by going to a different POV and a different setting. I come back to it. Really I do.

Darla said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Darla said...

Sounds perfectly fair to me, Ellis. And is a good reminder even when not writing a mystery; I need to double-check some of those connections in my WF manuscript.

Polly, I had to laugh at your comment... ;-)

Ellis Vidler said...

I have to go back and fix things all the time for the current scene to make sense. I've thought of them but don't get them written. Will I ever finish this book?

Nancy Lauzon said...

I totally agree with you, it's necessary to give your reader the same clues as the character. You must be very excited about your upcoming release, congrats!