Keep (some) of it to yourself.

Welcome back to another blog hop, with #OpenBook. Here’s this week’s prompt.

Don’t forget to click the purple button to see what everyone else has to say on this week’s subject. It’s at the end of my post.

How do you avoid giving readers TMI (too much information) about a character? How do you decide what to share about a story’s characters?

The key here is realism, in making the reader feel like they’re in a familiar place, even though they may be on the other side of the Galaxy, or in a twisted, alternative now. To do that, I generally leave the characters to do the talking, they’re the ones showing the story to me. They can give away as much (or as little) as they feel is necessary to keep the story moving.

Having said that, it’s important that I don’t let them get too enthusiastic and reveal their life story in the first chapter. I think that there needs to be some mystery. Information dumping is in nobody’s interest, largely because it won’t stick in the reader’s mind. It might even turn them off the whole book. We all know people in our lives who go on and on, passing us TMI. Just think of our reaction to them in real life and you’ll see what I mean.

That includes TMI about the setting as well; because I’ve always thought of the setting as a character in its own right (I could go on about that for a whole blog post too, perhaps one day I will).

At the same time, it’s essential that you pass on enough to build empathy in the characters and form an impression in the reader’s mind about their part in the scheme of things. Are they good or bad, do they have a secret, might they even change sides? Is what they’re saying worth paying attention to, does it hold the key to the whole thing?

Being selective with how much you reveal can muddy the waters or lead you in the wrong direction.

It’s often useful to drop little bits of character backstory in amongst the verbiage, as well as plot hints that might help you along the way. Especially if, looking back, you can see their significance. If you can make it sound natural, like in a shared conversation or reminiscence, even an internal monologue, it gives it a familiar feel, as that tends to be how we get and give information in real life.

Of course, the important bits, the ones that relate to the major plot points, are given more visibility or even told again, just to reinforce them. In the same way that a real person might.

Until next time.

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8 Responses

  1. Stevie Turner

    Being selective and just dropping hints here and there works for me too. Information dumping turns the reader off, I think.

  2. Daryl Devore

    And that balance of too much or too little is such a tough thing to achieve.

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