February 24, 2015

That's Not What I Asked

by Gary Fearon, Creative Director, Southern Writers Magazine

In a conversation with another writer last week, I was reminded of the fine line between necessary details and too much information. We were discussing how often an exchange like this happens:

Person 1: When are you taking your vacation?
Person 2: Well, we were planning on going in May, but our youngest has soccer tryouts and we need to be here for that. Then my nephew and his wife are coming for a visit so we can see the new baby, and...

By the time Person 2 gets around to "What was the question again?", Person 1 is sorry they asked.

Let's not even get into those folks who take the greeting "How are you?" as an invitation to go down the laundry list of ailments and aches they've been having.  Granted, there are times when we genuinely seek a real answer when asking, "How are you?", like when Person 2 is coming out of a coma.

Watching the entertainment awards shows in recent days, one couldn't help but notice the tendency of some winners to give more information than is appropriate.  "And the Oscar goes to..." is not asking the question, "What are your thoughts on the human condition?"

Those on the receiving end of extraneous dissertations are not getting what they asked for.  When something takes a turn out of sync with our expectations, there is disappointment and often resentment.  As consumers, we are especially prone to expect a product to be that product with no undue surprises.

One of the most frequent complaints I hear from friends who read a lot is their annoyance with books that go into unneeded backstory or detail about the industry, profession or region where the story takes place.  When it gets to the point where they're skipping pages at a time, they already know they're not going to read that author again.

More than one bestselling author in Southern Writers has told us that although they may do voluminous research, they make it a point not to put it all in their story.  When it's in their head, the essential information will filter onto the page organically, without force feeding it to the reader.

Giving the audience exactly what they're asking for (a well-worded story that doesn't waste their time) will generate the preferred response when you ask, "What did you think of my book?" That's an answer you'll actually want to hear.

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