But, alas, this is not to be a Victoria's Secret post - not even, well, a Victorian secret post.
What this will be is a quick summary of something my favorite author said. Very, very loosely paraphrasing:
As an author, there are all sorts of wonderful tidbits we know about our book: characteristics of people, history, bits of conversation, poetry/song/dance(?) - hence things that are under the radar of the main plot - Under Things.
The second part of the loosely, loosely paraphrased advice is: Don't tell the reader. Unless, Unless the thing moves the story forward in some way. Otherwise these things are, and should be considered, Unmentionable.
As a (maybe extreme) example of failing to do this, I recently listened to a book on tape which shall remain unnamed. It was a nice story, interesting, somewhat compelling.
The EndExcept that it wasn't the end. After the day was saved, the author backed up and redid the climactic battle from another character's point of view just to show how that character heroically wrapped up his own story line.
The EndNope. It went back again and described the battlefield, and then went forward in time to how the plains became a place of picnics and Maypoles in some distant future time.
The EndBut no... Seriously, it went on and on until I wondered if I'd stumbled into some seventh circle of the Simarilian.
I could tell that these details delighted the author and were meaningful to her.
But. I. Didn't. Care.
(sorry, did that sound harsh?)
Compared to the above example, actually minding your Under Things and Unmentionables and Not Adding Every Single Detail can have several delightful benefits:
- The readers have to work. When readers have to connect the dots themselves, they become vested in the story.
One of the reasons Harry Potter was so appealing was that we had to work toward discovering things right along with Harry.
- Not telling everything gives a sense of depth to the story. Mentioning things without going into detail is like having the reader walk in on a group of friends sharing a joke - they want in on the joke, too. They just know there's something awesome behind it.
Just ask any of MWT's fans about Ornon's lost sheep-
What do we really know about the incident? Absolutely nothing except that sometime in the past, Eugenides did something to Ornon's sheep. Why do fans love it then? Because they know the result. Eugenides can rile up Ornon to no end by simply quietly baahing when he's around - and it sends everyone into gales of laughter. Now it's the fan's joke, too - even though we have no idea what originally happened.
- It makes readers wonder. Wonder is one of the great tools of a writer. If a reader is left pondering a story after they close the back cover, then something lasting has happened. Loose ends are not always bad. Loose ends lead to conjecture, surmises, discussions, fanfic(?) - and that's when a story won't be forgotten.
So, all you writers, gird up your Under Things, don't get your Unmentionables in a wad, but whatever you do, don't let your readers see them! (unless it's absolutely necessary)