What Does the Reader Need To Know?

Research is fun. Fun. Fun.

However, research for the writer’s sake isn’t always needed for the reader’s sake. I get questions about this a lot.

The writer may need to know the mechanics of a specific task. For example, in 1901 in New Jersey, where does ice come from? How often does the ice man deliver? What does the heroine do with the ice after it’s brought to her house? The reader, however, doesn’t need every detail. The reader only needs what’s relevant to the story.

If the key plot element is that the heroine is out of ice, the reader might need to know why (the ice man only delivers once every two weeks because the heroine’s too poor to buy more, and the minister came to visit the day before the delivery). If the key plot element is needing ice to put on an injury, the reader might only need to know that the ice is kept in a box in the cellar, perhaps with some sawdust clinging to it to give the detail distinction.

Details are a good reason to research. When you’re writing, it helps a lot to have details already in your mind, ready to slide into the story when needed: a woman in colonial America tested the temperature of her baking oven by how it felt against her hand; a dolphin’s skin (and maybe that of a mermaid’s tail) feels cool and rubbery; the smell of a fired musket lingers. The trick is not to include every detail.

It’s usually better to explain less rather than more. Some things your reader will know already. To be really obvious, the reader knows that when it rains, things get wet. The writer doesn’t need to tell them about cloud formation, weather prediction, and global warming. She only needs to let them know that Susie’s clothing gets soaked and Joel offers to wrap her in his dry coat.

About Victoria Janssen

Victoria Janssen’s first erotic novel, The Duchess, Her Maid, The Groom and Their Lover (Harlequin Spice, December 2008), was translated into French and German. Her second Spice novel, The Moonlight Mistress (December 2009), was translated into Italian and nominated for a RT Reviews Reviewers’ Choice Award. Her third novel is The Duke & The Pirate Queen (December 2010). She has also published erotic short stories as Elspeth Potter. Her blog features professional writing and marketing tips, genre discussion, book reviews, and occasional author interviews.
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7 Responses to What Does the Reader Need To Know?

  1. jodi says:

    I agree. :) Very good post.

  2. Victoria Janssen says:

    Thanks, Jodi!

  3. Jenna Reynolds says:

    Maybe it's the world we live in (so much to do, so little time) or maybe it's me, but I can't stand a lot of detail in writing anymore. Give me enough to help me understand the story and enjoy reading it. Too much detail and I'm sorry, I put the book down and move on. Now that's just moi. Others may feel differently but I know I really get frustrated nowadays with way too much detail in a piece of writing and I won't hesitate to put the book down. Just too busy. *shrug*

  4. emerson says:

    yup. as movies are edited tight, so are books these days. no one has patience/time. just get to the good stuff.

    oth, i liked the details, learning something when i read a book.

  5. Victoria Janssen says:

    Jenna, Emerson, for me a lot depends on my mood. Sometimes I want the story to flow quickly, sometimes I want deep immersion in a world.

  6. Darla M Sands says:

    Excellent advice!

  7. Victoria Janssen says:

    Thanks, Darla!

Comments are closed.