Thursday, March 11, 2010

I'm not obsessed. I can prove it.

Okay, I can't prove it, but you can't prove the reverse.

I found this on the blog 'Old Picture of the Day'.
This is a man, I know, but you'd be surprised at how few
beautful pictures there are of women with a bow and arrow.  

If you read Tuesday's post, you know I've been studying the opening chapter of 'The Hunger Games'. 

"Why?" you ask. "Are you obsessed?"

No! But yes! I have a little problem, you see. I had this idea that I could tell my story by letting events unfold and the reader would figure it out, like a beautiful 1000 piece jigsaw puzzle. Unfortunately, ten different people have read my first chapter and they all say basically the same thing.
That's really interesting and I want to read more, but what the heck is going on?
The first two comments are encouraging, the third I thought would resolve itself by the time they got to chapter three. But they were still confused. What to do? Info dumps are bad. Very bad.

I checked out about ten current YA books and read the openings (and more if I was intrigued enough: Shiver). But I got out a pencil and took some notes in 'The Hunger Games'. (I bought HG. I don't write in library books. Why did you think that?)

I discovered something shocking. Out of the first 109 lines (first four pages), 81 lines are exposition in past tense. Collins spends 81 lines explaining the world. I was trying to spend 0. No wonder my world is murky!

Some of the chunks of exposition are inherently interesting, like when Katniss talks about how she tried to kill the cat or how she and Gale met hunting, but some of it is about how close her house is to the woods, how often the fence is electrified, how the other coal miners are scared of the woods. 

Lesson: It's okay to explain a few things. Find what makes your world different and tell the reader. Turn on some lights and let them look around. Just don't describe the china pattern or the brand of air freshner.

Okay, back to rewriting! Remember to never follow the rules off a cliff. Thanks to the many readers who have suffered some confusion so I could figure this out. 

Any rules you've misapplied? Any tricks to share? Thanks for commenting!  


  1. I just started re-reading THE HUNGER GAMES and have noticed, too, how much telling she does at the outset. (Although I didn't notice it the first read-through, which says a lot.)

    As for misapplying rules, I was playing around with showing vs. telling a few months ago and realized the same thing: Telling is a necessary part of storytelling. But it's definitely something that works better in sprinkles than in dumps:)

    (You can check out my experiment at, if you like. (I, obviously, don't know how to do that cool embedded-link-in-a-blog-comment thing (and don't want to take the five minutes it would take me to do a Google search).))

  2. You know, some books do the non-exposition thing very well. It's rare, but when it happens, I am just blown away. (As long as it's not too chaotic). Pandemonium by Daryl Gregory does the minimum of exposition . Yet despite all the action going on and slight disorientation, I was still sufficiently riveted to keep going. When a story is that well done, I don't need to know everything.

  3. Hi Krista- I didn't notice it on the first pass, either. I think the difference is she was showing while she told, if that makes sense. Like when Katniss talks about her dad dying. It's Katniss recalling something, but the content is striong enough to warrant it.

    Hey Steph- That's what I was trying to do, but EVERYONE that read it was giving me the same feedback, though in different words. I resisted listening for months, but I can only be so stubborn;) The reassuring thing is I'm excited about making these adjustments, not just giving in. And I don't think I'll go overboard. It's just given me permission to let my MC explain a few things. I think it was a misunderstanding on my part of what makes 'good writing'. I'll look at Pandemonium. Thanks for the recommendation!

  4. I'm glad you did a post on this, Kelly. This is like the "no backstory" hits I was taking when I first posted AutTale on OWW. They all wanted action/action/action, but my world is different, and I wanted to cement the reader there before plunging into action.

    Great post!

  5. Hey Teresa- It's an easy misunderstanding to make, because it takes alot of thought to pick the right details. I had a recent reader say- 'we don't care where she sleeps, tell us about why he sisters are dying!' and that got my attention. If you pick the wrong details, then it feels like an info dump. Thanks! -Kelly