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Say there is a small detail in the beginning of the book that has a big effect later on. The reader might've forgotten about that by the time they get to that part. How should I remind the reader about the detail, other than straight-up saying something along the lines of:

Remember the X 10 years ago? It returned and that's what caused this Y to happen.

Remember Z's injury? That's why he did A instead of B.

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    Refer to it subtly a few times in the meantime. Without any context about the detail there's barely more we can suggest. – Helmar Sep 25 '16 at 21:18
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    @Helmar agree wholeheartedly, the implementation is very specific to the detail. As a thought/suggestion: make a bigger deal of it in the very beginning, and then decisively abandon it. Let the reader ponder "what was that all about and why is he suddenly forgotten about it?"....or make a more or less normal deal out of it, but present it in a deceptive way, as though it is rather important, but for all the different reasons, and then hit the reader with a twist: remember that? NOT what you thought at all, THAT is why it is important! etc... the possibilities are endless... – Lew Sep 26 '16 at 13:33
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    Yeah I agree. This is a great question that I've had in my head for a while. – Daniel Cann Jan 1 '17 at 9:19
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There is no ideal way.

Some readers have a good memory for detail and will be irritated that you keep reminding them of what they know they have already read. Other readers will be reading your book while distracted by WhatsApp and will not get what you try to tell them no matter how often you repeat it.

The best thing to do, I think, is make the repetition as natural as possible. If you want to remind the reader that the hero is allergic to something, give him opportunities to check the ingredients of stuff he buys or have him invited to dinner and reminding the host that he cannot eat nuts. If you want to remind the reader that the hero has a red shirt on, let a friend of the hero tell him that the shirt looks awful and that he shouldn't wear red.

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Give a character a reason to think about, speak about, or interact with the small detail.

5

You can show it somewhere in between your narrations, as if the character remembers that stuff or any incident, indirectly telling about it. A mention or a comic event is usually remembered by the readers.

But don't do it in a way as if you are telling it again and again. It should appear as if the stuff was important to come up at the moment. At least two references will help.

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I like to break up an event and reveal parts of it as the book goes along. It keeps the reader interested because you are giving them a different piece of the puzzle each time, without repeating yourself and making them bored. Even if it's not a mystery, the reader will feel like they are getting closer to finding out the truth by themselves before they reach the end.

There are of course the usual ways: the character can be driving somewhere and his mind goes back to that day.

Or perhaps you can mention it in dialog between two characters. If it's a small secret that you want to remind the reader about, you can use another character who is either about to find out the secret, or who already knows the secret and now confronts or black mails the character with the secret.

Regarding this example: Remember the X 10 years ago? That's what caused this Y to happen.

I think you need to go through your book and put more details about the "X" event - reveal a few slight details throughout the book leading up to "Y". I have this exact scenario in a book I am working on. A fire that destroys a horse stable in the prologue comes back to haunt three of my characters later in the book. But in the meantime, the characters never completely forget that fire because it caused each one of them to make promises to themselves. And while they are running around the story trying to achieve their goals, those promises are constantly being tested, and they are occasionally remembering the consequences of that fire. What the reader doesn't know, is that one of them started that fire by accident. In the beginning two of the other characters also don't know that one of them started it. Slowly the secret starts to come out and they blame each other, until the final truth is revealed. - I've deviated a bit, but my point is - maybe you need to re-look at the way you have structured some of your book - are there small clues or hints or reminders you can throw in through out the book to keep this detail in the readers mind, rather than suddenly spring it up again later.

Some people don't remember small details - I'm one of those people because I sometimes put a book down for months before I pick it up again.

But then some people do remember the tiniest details. I think you also need to think about your potential readers and find a balance.

2

What you're trying to do is called foreshadowing. Foreshadowing is essentially providing the groundwork for a later event. The typical rule that is followed is the rule of threes. If something is important, mention it at least three times throughout the course of your story. Everyone else is right about techniques for doing this. Working in whatever it happens to be so that it's a natural fixture of the story is generally your aim. If your readers don't pick up on it first read, they'll have the pleasure of doing so on the second read and you'll look brilliant.

Often times you'll write many things that need foreshadowing. Revision is a great time to go back and clean those things up so that your events feel earned and satisfying.

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Storytelling is about sequencing. If you have a big gap between a detail and major events that depend on that detail, that means you have got the sequencing wrong.

This is a pervasive problem in writing. Most of the impact lies in how the story unfolds. But often we have put months of work into creating a story in a particular sequence, only to find that some effect that we want is not working. We don't want to redo the entire sequence of the novel so that the effect is produced naturally, so we look for some local way of pulling it off, some trick of language or some way to sneak something in.

Perhaps there are occasions where we have no choice but to resort to these cheats. But the real answer is almost always that you have got the sequencing wrong, and the only fix that is really going to work is to go back and fix the sequencing.

  • Interesting (and horrifying) point about sequencing..So, Is there "always" a potential sequencing flaw if the writer is in any way unsure of wether the reader will remember or connect the clues? – storbror Mar 20 '17 at 19:00

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