This post was written specifically for the #AuthorToolboxBlogHop.
One must never place a loaded rifle on the stage if it isn’t going to go off. It’s wrong to make promises you don’t mean to keep.– Anton Chekhov
I’m fairly sure I’ve touched on this in the past, probably with relation to world-building, but the above notion has been in my head a fair bit lately. While you can add a lot of details to your characters, settings or the history of your world, ultimately they do need to have some kind of function in the story and/or some kind of payoff.
Now I suppose you could say that contributing to the overall richness of your world or explaining part of your character’s backstory is reason enough for their inclusion and I can’t argue that. I’m sure I’ve included dozens of little things that seemed like nice details that have no greater significance than that. For example, the fact that Quinn was tangentially involved in the American Civil War doesn’t really serve any purpose other than I wanted to write him with a western feel. (And before you ask, I wrote the first draft of book one years before I saw True Blood or read any of the books.) Having said that it did provide me with the basis of a short story so, in a way, it did prove useful beyond its original intention.
He’d spent the first few months after his father’s death riding with small bands of bushwhackers, ambushing random Union forces, hoping vaguely to find the same band of deserters, but without any success.
I think the dividing line is how often you mention specific details. The more times they come up, the more likely it becomes that readers will attach significance to them. Which is great, if that’s your intention. For example, in books one and two, I make particular reference to the eyes of two separate characters to suggest a familial connection. Admittedly I’m playing a long game on that one since these particular characters don’t appear very often and the clues are pretty spread out.
Her eyes were grey, pale as shrouds, with a hint of madness in them.
As he looked over at me, I could see the bags under his pale grey eyes.
Note that I said, if that’s your intention, up above. Like it or not, people are going to draw their own conclusions about what they think is important or try to read things into details you never considered. And then you end up with them being disappointed when it doesn’t go anywhere.
Of course, what can even worse is devoting time to laying in details to support a plot line that never actually appears. That’s where we come back to the quote at the top of this page. Now you may not have intended to lose this thread, but that likely won’t change the reaction of the readers. For example, throughout the last third of book two and what I’ve written so far for book three, there is an ongoing question of who is covertly helping Ash and his friends, embodied by the character of Anja.
“Actually, I was wondering who you were working for.”
“I’m afraid my employer, your benefactor,” She stressed that second part. “Wishes to remain anonymous for the time being.”
Occasionally I do think that it might be interesting to leave it a mystery. After all, life is messy and inconsistant and I could say I’m just embracing that notion. But I keep I’ve made enough if this plotline by now that I can’t abandon the idea, not without potentially disappointing anyone who might someday read my books. The only question is, at what point do I let that play out and how long can I hold off without it becoming frustrating. For those writing series and who have some of their own threads spread over multiple books, it’s a fine line to walk.
Don’t forget to read the other Author Toolbox blogs, just click the icon below.