Saturday, August 25, 2007

Explication in Crime Fiction

I really liked I Married a Dead Man a lot. But it was guilty of something I have been trying to steer away from in my writing: the use of lot of explication to move the story along. Now it would be hard to avoid it in the Woorlrich novel. This woman is isolated for very unusual reasons and the only way the story can move forward is by Woolrich puttting the reader inside her head.
If this is the case, is explication permissable or should the author still find ways to convey information through dialogue and action?
My Reader #1 felt that was the main flaw with the first chapter of my novel--too much explication and I can easily omit a lot of it. By why did it work in I Married a Dead Man?
Is explication a dated technique in the novel?
Since there is so little traffic here, I guess I'll put this on crimespace too.

19 comments:

Unknown said...

I'm not sure when the "show, don't tell" rule came along, but if you read a lot of older novels, you'll think the authors never heard of it. Probably they hadn't. And the books work anyway.

pattinase (abbott) said...

I don't mind it at all. A woman told me last week that if she opens a book and doesn't see mostly dialogue, she closes it. But I find wall to wall dialogue can deprive the reader of a lot of beautiful writing. There are things you can write in a explication or description that is far more lucid and lovely than diaglogue.

Unknown said...

If you want wall-to-wall dialogue, then Robert B. Parker's your man. But he does the occasional nice description, too.

pattinase (abbott) said...

His first seven books were especially amazing. Hard to describe today what was so special about them. Great supporting characters for one.
Much like explaining the Beatles to those who weren't there.

The Godwulf Manuscript (1973)
God Save the Child (1974)
Mortal Stakes (1975)
Promised Land (1976) (Edgar Award, 1977, Best Novel)
The Judas Goat (1978)
Looking for Rachel Wallace (1980)
Early Autumn (1981)

Peter Rozovsky said...

I'm no author, but I read plenty of books. I'd say explication is dated in the sense that a reader today will be less apt than readers were in the nineteenth century to accept it.

For that reason, I get a kick out of authors who manage to sneak exposition into their work in clever ways, whether by putting in the mouths of different characters or having the protagonist quote other sources and so on. ├ůsa Larsson's Sun Storm does some of this, and I seem to recall Peter Temple breaking up the dreaded information dump by breaking hisexposition into small, widely spaced bits.

===================
Detectives Beyond Borders
"Because Murder Is More Fun Away From Home"
http://detectivesbeyondborders.blogspot.com/

pattinase (abbott) said...

Hey, Peter
I managed to pick up a Fred Vargas book for one dollar today. Have Mercy on Us All. Never would have caught my eye, if not for your post.

Anonymous said...

Woolrich's obsessed characters Need to tell you everything, because dammit, Attention Must Be Paid. Unless you have characters in such extremis, or who have some particularly witty observation to make, such monolog probably isn't the best way to go about it. You can see how important contemporary writers such as Marcia Muller and Kate Wilhelm are still wrestling with this.

pattinase (abbott) said...

There are people in my writing group who like explication. If there is a minute when they don't understand motivation, it bothers them. I think its like scafolding, it can come out after the story is complete and I'm trying to do that now. Although removing it, does seem to detract from intensity in this case. Thanks, Todd.

Anonymous said...

I wonder sometimes if the current generation of readers never got past "See Spot Run" They want everything in sound bites without knowing what color Spot's coat is or how fast Spot was running or even why he was running.

With the olders books, the readers were a generation that thrived on knowledge, wanted to be taken places they'd never heard of or seen, wanted to experience a world they couldn't even imagine.

This new computer generation of readers live in a world where, with the stroke of a key, they can find themselves walking down a street in China. For them they don't need a set-up just the action.

As a writer I tend to write first drafts as info-dumps. (Easy for short stories, not sure how it would work on a novel) That helps me sort through the story and find out what it's really all about. It also helps me find the character's motives and the narrator's voice. Then I fold all that into dialogue and action, sometimes with the main character just talking to herself as she works through a problem when there's no one else around.

Not sure if that's what you're looking for. They're just some thoughts that came to me when I was reading the posts.

pattinase (abbott) said...

I do that too, Sandra. And then I let my writing group say, get rid of this and this and this. We get it.
But nobody read the novel till now. So that dumping was especially evident in the first chapter.
I took 1000 words of explication out last night. She's a lot more opague. Maybe that's not a bad thing.

Megan said...

I like books where I learn more about the main characters as I continue to read. It doesn't need to be in the form of a Big Dramatic Twist (that can work, but it needs to be a pretty good twist). But when I'm reading a novel, I like the interplay between the character and the situation. If the characterization is all front-loaded, then the rest of the book reads like an episode starring the main character. Motivation doesn't need to be opaque, but it can become more textured as the novel progresses.

pattinase (abbott) said...

I*n my case, what I did wrong, was to explain her state of mind about something that had just happened. Explained it overly and also explained too much about what was going on in her head as she confronted her nemesis.

For instance, here's a line I cut.

That photo was good, even if none of the others on his counter were anything special. It had to be this idiot was wrong. Ted. What sort of street traffic did a gallery like his even attract? Had he even advertised the show? Done a flyer for it? She’d been so flattered when he agreed to hang her work, she hadn’t investigated such matters.

Cut or not?

Sandra Scoppettone said...

Not knowing the novel I don't know if you should cut it...but cut the two "even".

pattinase (abbott) said...

Three of them there actually. Sorry. That blasted first draft. That's why I like to edit every day. I'm cutting away. She'll be so opaque when I'm done, you'll walk into walls.

Peter Rozovsky said...

Patti, I hope you find that to be a dollar well spent.
===================
Detectives Beyond Borders
"Because Murder Is More Fun Away From Home"
http://detectivesbeyondborders.blogspot.com/

Sandra Scoppettone said...

The first even is okay. So okay I didn't notice it. It's the other two.

Do you like all this traffic?

Peter Rozovsky said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Peter Rozovsky said...

Without the first even, your sentence would sound odd.
===================
Detectives Beyond Borders
"Because Murder Is More Fun Away From Home"
http://detectivesbeyondborders.blogspot.com/

pattinase (abbott) said...

"Writing" questions generate more traffic than movie or book reviews. I do like it. How nice to have a group of expert writers and readers guide me.
Anyway, that whole graf and others like it are gone. She's a very opaque character at the moment. The reader will have to discern her motives more.