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This is a habit I have with my stories, and I think it's a bad practice. The story I'm writing isn't of the suspense genre, it's a mix of fantasy and realistic fiction, but a bit of "I wonder what/who/how would that be?", and showing the answers later on is never a bad thing (if well implemented).

I think I'm a plotter, and maybe a bit of a pantser too. I write the core of the story, almost always already knowing the ending, and then I write excerpts describing every idea I have as soon as they come to my mind. I only start writing the story at full when I've established enough ideas, so I can let the events happen and the characters act for themselves.

However, in my case, this process leaves all details exposed, most of the time right at the beginning (but not in an info-dump). Little to no important information remains to reveal later. In my opinion, a story with no surprises and no suspense and no mystery, that just reveals everything the reader wants to know right away, is just plain boring.

But I also don't know if it's just the way I structure it, or if it's simply just bad writing. Should I cover what is uncovered? Should I leave the revelation of some information to later chapters? Should I trick the characters?

  • I did a bit of editing to make the question easier to follow, but please feel free to revert my edits or further change them if needed. – Neil Fein Mar 7 '17 at 18:44
  • Of course, don't forget what Tolkien discovered regarding “distant horizons” and all that. Also, muddling your character's perceptions helps keep the story thick. Most people don't see everything all at once. – can-ned_food Mar 7 '17 at 21:24
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Good stories are not created by withholding information from the reader. They are created by constructing a satisfactory story arc, by creating the desire to know what happens next. The desire to know what happens next is not created by withholding information. It is created by engagement with the story. Information creates engagement. Withholding information restricts engagement. Of course, the information has to be relevant and interesting or it will not be engaging, but the only thing you should withhold is what happens next.

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    Agreed, revealing too much is only an issue if your story is so predictable it needs obfuscation. And even then actually improving the story is the correct solution. In a way your habit of "being open with information" might be something for you to actively use, because it makes it easier for you to see if your story needs more work and where. Also if it is the way you naturally write, working with instead of against your natural tendencies helps in finding your own voice as an author. So I'd work on improving your stories, not on telling less.YMMV, as always. – Ville Niemi Mar 7 '17 at 13:19
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    Normally, yes. But the ending of most stories is not really a surprise. We know where most plots are going, and we would be disappointed if they didn't go there. We don't know how they will get there. Even then, it is not the mystery of how they get there that matter so much as simply the experience of getting there. Art, in the end, is an experience, not a puzzle. You dole out information to create a satisfying experience for the reader. No one reads 300 pages just to find out what happens if they do not enjoy the experience along the way. – Mark Baker Mar 7 '17 at 20:54
  • (I deleted my comment to edit it, but didn't saw your comment, so I'm reposting) "... but the only thing you should withhold is what happens next". Does this also applies to what will happen in the ending? This habit I have also includes making the reader know what will happen in the ending since the beginning or early middle, as I said in another question I made. But the real problem is that the ending is just as told. So, I, the writer myself, am basically just telling spoilers to the reader, and I'm veeery unsure about leaving it that way. – Yuuza Mar 7 '17 at 21:06
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The main problem with "revealing too much" is info-dumps. Boring the reader early on. If you can reveal a lot without boring the reader, that's great!

The opposite of what you do - dribbling bits of exposition and making the reader tear down the image they built and rebuild it with the new info repeatedly - is a far worse problem.

If you feel the rest of the story is getting dry, just migrate some pieces into later sections in the editing phase. It's quite easy when you have all the pieces already laid out, to find where something would fit better - say, transformed from "tell" into "show" as we encounter it live in the story, or your cabbagehead has the good opportunity to ask his questions. Regardless - if you indeed, can provide all the exposition in the beginning of the book without ever boring the reader, I can only congratulate the talent.

  • Wait - are you implying I should edit my writing? /s -- No, really, good advice. Especially if you're a pantser, you should keep in mind that you can (and probably should) completely gut and rearrange the order of things once you've finished the first draft. Kill your darlings and all that. – R.M. Mar 7 '17 at 19:03
  • @R.M.: Sometimes you don't really need to. But along with proofreading, you will often spot "This is too long and boring and does nothing to progress, needs to be trimmed. This is too skeletal, needs expanding. This is a lengthy piece of exposition right in the tense moments, breaks pacing...", "This is telly, should change into showy." - even as a plotter, you can't exactly foresee how long given piece will be, or if given approach works or not. Surprisingly, happens less often with pantser approach to me, than when I plot... – SF. Mar 7 '17 at 20:24
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Should I cover what is uncovered?

If your story requires some events or circumstances not to be disclosed until the narrative reaches a certain point, then yes, you should withhold that information at the beginning and reveal it when it is time. The genre does not matter, be it a murder mystery, romance, or a YA coming of age story.

Think of the reveal of a certain bit of information as you think of any other event in your story (because it is, just as well as someone getting ill, leaving the town, or getting married), and plot accordingly, that is all there is to it.

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