Kiss Of Death: Over-Explanation

We get mad when a writer kills a good story by explaining too much.

This is the second of our occasional “kiss of death” series, where we discuss a writing mistake that will make an agent reject your proposal and show you how to correct it. Our previous blog covered “Sweeping Syndrome.”

Explaining too much is called the “Data Dump.” It’s easy to pour in too much explanation because it’s so easy, especially when you are:

  • In a hurry.
  • Moving sections around.
  • Cutting the manuscript.

But as Harvard psychologist Daniel Gilbert has said, “Explanation robs events of their emotional impact because it makes them seem likely and allows us to stop thinking about them.”

So if you want to keep readers engaged, hold back on explanation.

If you must give information, be subtle. Here are some ways to do it:

  • Action Mode—Have a character take action.
  • Background Mode—If your reader will be confused without this information, briefly say what it is.
  • Dialogue—have someone else say what needs to be said.
  • Summary Mode—give the facts in a sentence or two.

Give your readers more credit and less explanation.