Friday, April 30, 2010

The Slippery Slope of Slides

Please take a moment to read the very enjoyable comic to the right before continuing on to the rest of the post.

You don't have to. It's optional really. But, if you want to understand what this post is about, it's highly recommended.

Now, as you might know, depending on whether or not you read the comic, this post is about stories that as you to 'bear with them a moment.'

All books ask you, at some point or other, to bear with them for a moment. It's inevitable. Because that's how books work. They build suspense by keeping things from you and saying, "If you'll bear with me for a moment, you'll see how this all works out."

And, you know, that's perfectly okay. After all, we all read because we're interested in having things kept from us and having to ferret the information out. It's fun.

But here's my thing, I don't like it when people keep saying "Bear with me a moment" over and over again without throwing me so much as a bone of an answer. (Seriously people, all I'm asking is for one clue how all this stuff you've been telling me blends together.) It gets frustrating for the reader when things keep happening but the reader doesn't know how it's all supposed to link together and the writer isn't giving any clues on that front.

I've read some quite complicated books in my time, ones with many subplots that all weaved together or had a lot of back story that mattered but the reader didn't know it. And the writers who pulled this off had two things in common: they kept things interesting and they threw info to the reader so she felt in the loop.

When introducing new complications, don't just say, "this is going to get a bit more complicated and I'm not going to clear it all up just yet, but bear with me." Make it interesting for the reader, so you'll have something shiny to distract them with while you don't clear up the rest.

And keep passing on new information. Clear some things up as you go along. I don't mean you have to give up all your mysteries up front but give some things up as time goes on so the reader isn't spending the last 2/3 of your book going, "Wait, what in the name J.K. Rowling is going on? Who's that guy and where did that bloke go? Wasn't he incredibly important two chapters ago? WWHHAATT?!!?" So, if you've had a question burning for the last five chapters, maybe fill in that gap if you're planning on opening another one. In other words, if you're opening a window, please, I beg you, shut the door first.

So, ladies and gentlemen, if you'll bear with me a moment....

Just teasing.

Have you ever run into a novel that told you to 'bear with me' a few too many times? How did that make you feel? Do you ever worry you might be doing this to your readers?


  1. Yeah I hate that. If you're a Simpson's fan it's called the onion on the belt story. It's ok when the bear with me a moment sections are interesting and written well, then I'll enjoy the ride until we get to the real story. But we better get there soon or I'll lose interest!

  2. Fantastic post! It's nice to know you're allowed to have the 'bear with me a moment' parts. My writing intructor kept telling me to explain it, not to kept the reader waiting. But they only had to wait for a few more scenes for it to be explained . . . the scenes she never got to read. If you explain too soon, then why should I keep reading? Where's the suspense? But if there's too many 'bear with me a moment' moments, then I'll get bored of waiting. ;)

  3. Ugh - yes! I may get killed here but I felt that way with the Da Vinci Code. SO many cliffhangers I kept rolling my eyes.

    Have a great weekend!

  4. Oi! Have I ever. It was the most obnoxious thing ever. I'm usually pretty religious about finishing books, but I had to put it down.

  5. Yes. A big honkin' YA book that's very popular right now. I haven't been able to get past page 120 because they want me stay in the dark too long. And I hear from others that you're still in the dark at the end of it, so it has been bumped way down on my "to read" list.

    So, yup. I get what you're saying.

  6. Karen -- I've never heard of the onion on the belt story, but I definitely agree that having to wait forever to hear the rest of the story gets tiresome.

    Stina -- I happen to think that these gaps, these bear-with-mes have use in a story. Sometimes it helps to have the suspense of waiting for the info to come in. Just not too much.

    Talli -- I don't quite remember the DaVinci Code. Have a great weekend.

    Vader -- I hear you.

    KAH -- Still being in the dark when the book ends would drive me mad. I would kick that to the bottom of the list, too.

  7. It's so hard to find the right balance between overexplaining and keeping your reader on the edge of their seat. It's a fine line and I hope we've nailed it! There's nothing worse with a a book that ends without any kind of resolution. That drives me nuts!

  8. LnL -- I concur. If the book ends and I don't know what happened -- **cough** Turn of the Screw **cough** -- I become very displease.