Too much
information, what does that mean? Can an author have too much information about
his characters, his story world, or too much research about the era or the background
central to the story’s plot?
No. The
more an author knows about his characters, the more realistic they become for
the reader. An author’s imagination filled with a story world only brings about
vivid pictures for his audience. A vast knowledge of the era and area in which
the story revolves keeps both editors and readers from pulling out their hair
simply because the information provided is viable.
The
problem with “too much information” is not in the knowing of it but in the
sharing of it. Beginning
authors tend to want to share everything with the reader. I’d like to say that
I’m exaggerating when I mention that some authors want to provide every detail
about a character from the moment said character is born right up until the
time the front story begins.
The
reader does not need that information. Leave out the cute little scene where
the heroine walks for the first time. Really, it’s not needed unless that is
the last time the heroine ever walked.
Part of
an author’s job is to wade through the extensive back story a character brings
to the table and to pick out what it was in the character’s past that brought
her to the reason the story is being told. That—and only that—is what needs to be
included in the novel, and not in a large block of information dump. The relevant
portions of the character’s past need to be woven into the story and brought
out only when necessary. Back story is an author’s best friend when it comes to
providing twists and turns in the plot.
What
about the elaborate maps or house designs or the paintings of a scene so
vividly etched into the writer’s mind? Again, description isn’t something that
should be plastered on the page for description’s sake. Yes, the author can and
should have a firm picture in his mind about every location in a scene, even
the small things we call props. If a lamp shade with an old world map depicted
upon it in a traveler’s library is actually a map to hidden treasure, that’s
something the author will want to relay, but it needs to be brought in at an opportune
moment. When the traveler’s niece has arrived because Uncle Horton has gone
missing, have her turn on the light and think of Uncle Horton and everywhere he’s
gone. Let her trace a route from Cairo to Istanbul with her finger. Not only is
that description, but if the treasure lies on that route, it’s called
foreshadowing.
Then we
have research. The author has explored everything he knows about the space
industry. He knows each fact about every key player in the race to gain the
upper hand in technology. He understands every component of unmanned and manned
transportation into outer space. He knows the trajectory that made it possible
for the early astronauts to circle the globe. He even understands the phenomenon
known as solar flares and the danger they pose for space travel. Unless
that author is James A. Michener and the novel is entitled Space, all of that information is unnecessary.
Research
is done in order to convey the truth to the reader. As a horrid example of a
writer’s lack of research, I had the misfortune of reading a work of fictorial (yes, a word I made up to
denote a manuscript that is supposed to be historical fiction, but even the
history is fiction). This work was pre-Civil War. Every Southerner hated
slaves, misused slaves, used foul language, scratched in the wrong places, spit
every few seconds, and all of the men wanted to run off to war to fight for the
Confederacy. He didn’t simply pick on the white Southerners. The slaves were
also caricatures. If that wasn’t enough, the KKK was introduced pre-Civil War.
They were lynching and cross burning and wearing their hoods long before the
six veterans of the Confederate Army
founded the Klan and had their first meeting in Pulaski, Tennessee in 1865.
The
author didn’t need to share the above research (had he done the research), but
he did need to know it. If he had done a little research, he would have
discovered that this information wasn’t necessary for a Pre-Civil War novel.
However,
research would have proven to the author that not all white Southerners were
slaveholders. Not all white Southerners were radical about state’s rights. Slaves
would have been depicted with intelligence and keen observation about what was
going on around them. He might have even discovered some interesting facts that
could have brought a dimension to each character, both the good and the bad,
slave, slaveholder, and Southerners who didn’t own slaves, that would have added
layers to the story.
The
bottom line is an author needs to research for facts, and just as it is with
back story and description, only that which is imperative to the story needs to
be introduced … correctly.
When
self-editing search for areas where the back story, the description, and the
research introduced are irrelevant to the manuscript. Then delete it.
Happy
editing.

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