Wednesday, December 9

Posted by Laurel Garver on Wednesday, December 09, 2009 11 comments
I was mercilessly flogging revising chapter six last night and hit a paragraph where my MC cues up Mozart's Requiem on her iPod in what should set up a totally Emo, wallowing-in-self-pity moment. But alas, she pauses with a flashback about singing the piece in chorale.

Oh dear, dear, dear. First drafting self, what were you thinking? That no self-respecting teenager could possibly like classical music, unless it's forced upon her by a music teacher? That there has to be some explanation to make the scene at all plausible?

It looks like explain-itis struck again. A choice my gut told me was spot-on for showing my character I immediately second guessed. Insecurity attacked and explanations and justifications started pouring out. But the attempt to justify a choice often yanks my reader out of the moment and that's not good. Really, does it matter if my girl sang Mozart or not? The Pixar animated short "Jack-Jack Attack" features the "Dies irae" movement to great effect. The Requiem is a fabulous piece of music that's sad, sweet, at times poundingly angry and all about death (kinda like my novel). Enough said, right?

One of my critique groups regularly calls me out for explain-itis. "If your character's actions and thoughts and words flow out of who she is and what she wants or fears," they tell me, "let it stand. Refrain from over-explaining." However...they all write for adults. Is it really, truly safe for me to use cultural references most adults get when writing for teens? I want to trust teen readers to be able to get it or google it. Still, that niggling insecurity creeps in that I'm going over their heads.

How about you? Do you struggle with the temptation to over-explain? To what degree do we need to explain certain things to younger readers?
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  1. My editor is always writing on my ms: "overdone. Overwritten." So, yeah. Looks like I have the tendency.

    BTW, you won an award on my blog!

  2. I imagine that it's often BETTER to let the teens Google it. Wasn't it more fun to look for something you read about in a book and discover it yourself than to have it handed to you?

    Good editing catch!

  3. Yep! I just got spanked for "telling" too much in a recent critique! :)

  4. Yup. Let the reference speak for itself, I say. Or said. :)

    Plus, I agree with Ms. CKHB above. Good point, Carrie!

  5. Tamara: Ooh, tough editor. You're handling the crits with much grace. Thanks for the Honest Scrap, my friend. I'll post about it soon.

    Carrie, thanks for stopping by. I love the idea of getting teens to feel your work helps widen their world.

    Shannon: oh dear, I know what you mean about feeling a critique was corporal punishment. We're learning though!

    Simon: yes, I prettied up something you'd said, oh wise one. ;-)

  6. Prettied up something I said...

    ... 'cause I probably made a hash of it when I said it.

    I blame it on the beer. :)

  7. I tend to over explain, and then someone told me I should trust my reader. Trust them?? Can we at least fall into each others arms a few times first, just so I know they'll catch me?

  8. I'm guilty. It must be the mom in me. I do think though I need to be very careful not to talk down to my readers. Tippy-toes and keep it real.

  9. I tend to overwrite, as well. But on this, I agree with the others. Let the actions speak for themselves. Trust your readers. They're young, but they're pretty dang smart.

  10. I agree, Rhiannon and Carol, that trust is the core issue. But I wonder how much is the mom-ish thing of not quite trusting the kids, like T.Anne says, or more an issue of not trusting my story and my own ability to communicate through showing rather than telling. Perhaps it's a mix of both.

    Thanks for the thought-provoking discussion, friends!

  11. laurel, the fact that you SAW it is The step in the right direction. Great! When I actually see something like that I get all giddy, knowing my editing prowess is getting better.

    So YAY for you girl. :)