Wednesday, June 24, 2015

Hey! Did You Know…?

by Tracy Kiely

We all have certain topics that fascinate us. For me, it’s whether or not King Richard III really killed the princes in the Tower. Working these topics into our books can be great, if it’s done correctly. If it’s not, however, it becomes nothing more than an information dump. How do you know if you’ve crossed the line into this dreaded territory? Well, it can be hard to recognize on your own – after all, it’s your baby.  But a good rule of thumb is to ask yourself if you’d like to hear all of this information at once at a dinner party.
Think of it; you are sitting quietly when the person to your right begins to Talk. And Talk. And Talk. Do your palms begin to itch? Does your gaze wander? Are you beginning to squirm? The sensation is not unlike being cornered by that certain relative – you know the one – who insists on telling you every detail about her life.
In real time. 
It usually goes something like this:
“So last Saturday, Bob and I decided to try out the coq au vin that everyone is raving about from that new restaurant – you know the one – that cute little bistro on Main Street. It used to be that horrible Italian place that served that awful lasagna. The owner was that big sweaty man with the limp. He probably wouldn’t have such a terrible limp or sweat so much if he bothered to lose a few pounds. Judy said he drank, and I think she’s right. There’s simply no other excuse for that lasagna.
“Anyway, so Bob and I had a 12.30 reservation. At the bistro, not the Italian place. We left the house at 12.15 – no wait, that’s not right. It was more like 12.10, now that I think about it. You know how terrible traffic is this time of year. Why, last week it took me nearly an hour to drive to the hairdressers. Can you believe it? An hour! Judy said she once was stuck in traffic for thirty minutes trying to get to the bank. They really need to put a better traffic light in downtown, but I think the real problem is all the tourists. They love nothing more than to drive around, sightsee, and cause problems.
“Anyway, so we got to the restaurant at 12.20 and guess what? Our table wasn’t even ready! But who do you think I saw? Mary Fisher! You remember her, don’t you? She had that terrible accident a few years back and now has to drink all of her food, poor thing.”
Of course, by now you’ve intentionally split your glass of wine down your shirt to give yourself an excuse to run away rather than hear how poor Mary Fisher drank her coq au vin.
Were it only so easy when reading a book.
Do not dump your favorite topic over your readers’ heads all at once like football players do to their coaches with those huge barrels of Gatorade. If you are lecturing the reader, they will get annoyed. If they are happily reading a cozy mystery set in an ancient Irish castle and suddenly find themselves reading several jam-packed pages outlying the subtle differences between the mating rituals of the African Forrest Elephant and the African Bush Elephant – neither of which live in Ireland – they will write bad things about you on Amazon.
Your readers want entertainment, not a lesson. If you cannot bear to delete all the delightful facts you’ve acquired on the mating habits of those elephants, then put them up on your website. But don’t make your reader have to sit through the lecture if they didn’t sign up for the class.

PS. Henry Tudor TOTALLY killed those poor princes. Richard III was framed.


Meredith Cole said...

Great post, Tracy! And you're so right -- readers want "entertainment not a lesson."

Elgin Bleecker said...

Tracy – Thanks for the illustration – just great, as usual. – And let’s not forget the backyard barbecue bore, complaining that his kid was pulled out of yesterday’s baseball game in the fifth inning, and replaced by a lesser player. Of course, that moment of crisis only arrives after he recounts the first four innings, pitch-by-pitch. – No one wants that amount of detail, unless the storyteller can deliver the facts hidden in a lot of humor or excitement.

RJ Harlick said...

I totally agree that Richard III was framed, but by Henry Tudor??? Good post Tracy.