What to explain, what to leave out

One of the interesting things about writing fantasy is figuring out what to explain and what to let the reader figure out.

I find myself thinking about this as a revise a story where the comments, over and over again, keep asking me, “But why is this so? How did this happen?” At one point a reader even asked me, with some frustration, “Why can’t you just tell us what’s going on?”

On the one hand, it’s the writer’s job to convey things to the reader.

On the other hand, fantasy is a genre where, some of the time, things really are left for the reader to figure out, and that process of figuring out is part of what makes the story work. Overexplaining is as much a danger as underexplaining, and can do as much damage to the story. It’s a hard balance, especially since every reader is different.

And especially since readers who are used to fantasy read differently than those who aren’t, and expect to work more out on their own–which raises questions as to who a given story is written for, too. There’s a definite divide for this particular story: fantasy readers are making sense of it a lot more easily than non-fantasy readers, and are asking for fewer explanations. And yet, I don’t want to write a story that only those with a specialized background can understand, either.

I find myself relying a lot on the rule that if one person is bothered, I can ignore them; if two raise an issue, though, I have to at least give it some serious thought.

In the end, though, I sometimes think this writing thing is as much listening to one’s instincts as anything else.

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