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 [she, her] currently writes cozy space opera for Kalikoi. The novella series A Place of Refuge begins with Finding Refuge: Telepathic warrior Talia Avi, genius engineer Miki Boudreaux, and augmented soldier Faigin Balfour fought the fascist Federated Colonies for ten years, following the charismatic dissenter Jon Churchill. Then Jon disappeared, Talia was thought dead, and Miki and Faigin struggled to take Jon’s place and stay alive. When the FC is unexpectedly upended, Talia is reunited with her friends and they are given sanctuary on the enigmatic planet Refuge. The trio of former guerillas strive to recover from lifetimes of trauma, build new lives on a planet with endless horizons, and forge tender new connections with each other.
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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.