Almost There: Writer Talk: Over-sharing & Under-sharing

Tuesday, April 23, 2013

Writer Talk: Over-sharing & Under-sharing

Over-sharing, under-sharing and letting you know about the apple on the table 

Hello, my name is Tyler and I’m an over-sharer. Don’t want to know what I had for lunch, how it made me feel, and what I thought about while I ate it? Then don’t talk to me after lunch. I am a bottomless pit of talk and I’m not afraid to let my words fly.

I’m not ashamed of this particular personality trait, however, when it comes to writing it can be a bit of a problem.

I have read hundreds of books that walk the line of over-sharing and under-sharing details and books that have fallen in between. I know that giving too much information can be as bad as not giving enough. I want to know what the main character is thinking as he sees the city for the first time but I don’t need to know every single detail in the building to his left or the storm drain next to his feet. On the flip side, you can’t tell me that this is his first time to the city and then let him just walk down the street and into a nondescript house without a new thought in his head.

Getting the details just right is a balancing act in any story you write. At times, it’s a struggle for me to pull in my description reigns because I want need the reader to not only understand my story and characters but to see them as well. As the author I will always know 110 percent more than the reader about my story. I know why she bounces her leg whenever it storms. I know that the police station has a leaky basement causing the captain to have a series of hellish allergies. I know that, after the book ends, Mary is going to have a daughter and name her after her estranged sister.

Some of these details enhance the story; others just distract from it and enable over-sharing tendencies. Unless a detail furthers the readers’ understanding of a plot or character, really think about if it should be in there at all.

I’m going to use a very obscure book as an example of over-sharing.

Jude the Obscure (by Thomas Hardy) made me want to become a character in that book just so I could punch Jude and tell him to stop thinking about nonsense all of the time. You don’t have to know about the plot to know that dear ole Jude couldn’t walk a damned step without analyzing everything around him, how it all made him feel, and at least two flashbacks into his past. If I hadn’t been forced to read it for school I would have put it down within the first chapter (and I normally ALWAYS read past the first chapter).

Sure, some thoughts were relevant to the story. He questioned the love of his life, the way the city made him feel, and a bunch of other important who-am-I issues. However, he also described a ton of things that wasn’t worth a damn to him, me, or the story. Now, I know for a fact that some people insanely love this book (awkward moment: trashing this book to your professor before realizing she did her dissertation on it) and that’s good and all but they can’t deny it is, at best, long-winded.

You don’t need to write out everything that your character feels and sees and smells and touches because you love your story. You automatically know more than anyone about your story and you should keep it just like that. Your story, no matter the plot, is an extension of you and you need your secrets. Sometimes I tell you more than you need to know about my main, sometimes I don’t tell you enough to put together who-done-it, and sometimes I just want you to know there’s an apple sitting on the table.

At the end of the day it’s still your story. You can over- and under-share all you want, just remember that there are people who will put down your book in a heartbeat if you abuse either option. Don’t make them compare your story to Jude the Obscure.

-Tyler Anne (aka Chick Tyler)

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