I’ve always loved explaining things.
It started when I was a child, even. I would analyze everything I saw, felt, heard, or read, and then I would fully explain it to people. I could take a show that I’ve watched and talk for hours explaining how the pieces of the plot fit together, where the symbolism and theme went, and which characters were the most unique or interesting. It’s good, as a writer, that I can do that. I need, in my books, to explain the scenes, to keep a theme and story, to make good, consistent, intriguing characters.
But can I explain too much?
I recently ready The Giver by Lois Lowry, and SPOILER ALERT, I have some things to say.
One of the biggest shocking moments to me was realizing that the people in that book do not see colors. It was foreshadowed, and done well, but since the story followed a boy that had never seen color, the reveal came out of nowhere. It was brilliant.
And it made no sense.
How could people not see color? “Seeing beyond?” What does that mean? How are memories shared by The Giver? It doesn’t make sense that they belong to the community! The genetic modifications in this dystopia border on magic, and the stifling of creativity doesn’t make sense when training engineers. The logic of the Dystopian community completely falls apart to me, and the book doesn’t explain it to my satisfaction.
It didn’t need to. I still loved the book. The thing was, it didn’t matter how these things worked. It only mattered that they did. The situation brought up moral questions, and that was what it dealt with. How much is love worth? What about creative thought? Do the needs of the many outweigh the needs of the few? What price would you pay to remove pain from the world? What about death, and war?
We don’t need to know how these things happened, only that they did. The result is engaging and thought-provoking.
Another quick example is the Harry Potter series. How does magic work? Sure, we get a lot on wands and Horcruxes and such, but as far as casting spells, I never saw limits. How can you have a wizard war when people have no limit to their reserves of spells? In other books, magic is fueled by life energy or crystals. JK Rowling saw no need to detail that facet of magic. The book did not center on it, and magic had other restrictions that were delved into and used.
Sometimes it’s helpful to know that you don’t have to explain every little thing in your book. If something is interesting and relevant, it needs explanation. If not, it doesn’t. Focus needs to be put where it matters, and this is true across all genres. Build the mechanics and the story with a unity, and the book will feel more complete and less haphazard.