Wednesday, March 14, 2007

Too Much Information

How much do you tell the reader? How much can you assume they know? In a fantasy novel, for example, you pretty much have to tell them everything about the world they need to know in order for the plot and setting to work (e.g. if this society has an outcast system, the reader needs to know how it works and how it affects characters, motivations, plot elements etc.) But what about a genre such as crime where, in this day and age, much of the basic background information on forensics and detection would be known by the reader, either from other books or some of the dozens of crime TV shows such as CSI and SVU?
This was the question I puzzled over as I read "The Murderers' Club" by P.D. Martin. I read a lot of crime fiction, and I found the author's info dumps on things such as rigor mortis, how an autopsy is performed (yes, there was dialogue in that scene but it was contrived) and how a computer boots up and with what operating systems to be quite tedious.
Are there crime readers now who need these things explained? I'm not sure. As always on this blog, I put in the disclaimer Maybe it's just me!
And I know it's just me when I say - please stop writing in first person, present tense. Some kinds of novels suit fp/pt wonderfully well, but Patricia Cornwell's latest efforts in this style are clunky, and I felt Martin's fell into the same trap. Fp/pt doesn't always add immediacy and drama to a story, and it often means that if you aren't good at sentence construction and variation, you end up with an awful lot of sentences that start with I.
On the other hand, I did read a YA novel with pace, great voices and a story that kept surprising me. "The Long Night of Leo and Bree" by Ellen Wittlinger. It was short, but that was OK. Although the premise sounded familiar (rich girl meets violent poor boy), it defied predictability and was full of depth and complex insights that left me thinking afterwards - always a good sign.
Yes, my brain is returning to some semblance of working order at last. My feet are still up, I'm still walking very slowly, but that's OK. I feel like a living embodiment of the Slow Food Movement, with time to savour the small things for a change.
That's includes time to watch a movie or two. "The Good Shepherd" was slow but totally involving, and even had me pulling out the encyclopedia to check what happened with the Bay of Pigs and Cuban missile crisis. I liked it a lot.

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