As a new writer we want to tell everything about our characters before we introduce them. We want our readers to know everything about the person before we ever meet the person. This is definitely a mistake! When a reader starts to read a book with a lot of telling, they normally close the book. It’s boring!
We talked about this one day on a group I’m on. Most readers said if the book is filled with a lot of telling, they’d stop reading it. They want “white space.” That’s dialogue. Telling bogs the book down. Readers want action, not a lot of telling.
When will they learn about the characters if you don’t tell everything up front? As you write the story, you can put snippets of what you want them to know in the story. Things like she/he closed their brown eyes, or ran their hand through their whatever color hair. You don’t have to have a description of the character at the beginning of the introduction. We can learn later they have whatever color hair and eyes. It sounds very out of place to say, “Brad had red hair, stood about 6’3″ and had blue eyes.” If it were a movie script it’d be different. But this is something we can learn as he leans his 6’3″ frame against the side of the car and runs his hand through his red hair.
Another thing new writers do is tell every little detail. We know when we stand up we’ve been sitting in a chair or couch. We merely stand. Words should move the story along, not make the story boring. We don’t have to know every detail. Sometimes we become too detailed.
There are times we are not detailed enough. Unless something has been told previously, don’t use “he told.” If this is new information, we want to know what it is. If we don’t know what was told, tell us. Readers don’t like to be left in the dark. The only way we’ll know is if you tell us, but only tell us once. When something has been brought out before in the story, then you can say, “he told his parents what happened ten years ago with John.” If this has never been brought out in the story, we want to know about John and what happened ten years ago.
Limit the amount of telling. Bring it in the story in other ways. It can be done and done easily.
When I first started writing my main character was traveling from Williamsburg, Virginia to Eastern Tennessee in a covered wagon. I wanted to tell everything that happened on the trip. This included several Indian attacks. Too boring! The Indian attacks did not move the story along. I started the book in the wrong place. I had a lot of backstory at the beginning. When I changed it my book became easier to read.
If you are writing any kind of suspense, open with what happened, not the backstory. We’ll learn later why the murder occurred. It can all come out in the end. Start with a bang and let the rest happen.
Please watch your telling. Make the story readable from the beginning.