Welcome to the blog of science fiction author Eileen Rhoadarmer--where science fiction and Mommyhood collide!

Wednesday, March 21, 2012

Hiding in Plain Sight

Since one of my 2012 goals was to get more new story submissions this year, I decided it was time to resurrect a few that were nearly ready but had sat on my computer for a while.  One of these I wrote about a year ago.  I'd gotten some critiques for it last summer, and then edited it back in September.  I asked for a few more opinions in January, expecting a quick and easy polish before submitting.  Upon getting some more opinions and rereading it, however, I realized that it still had one big issue.  Even though I believed I had tidied up the story's main problem, I hid the information that made it tie together all too well.

The problem was, I hadn't been trying to hide anything--I had simply hoped to make it subtle enough that I didn't bang anyone over the head with it.  Upon rereading it, though, I realized that far from banging anyone over the head, I'd be lucky if anybody even noticed.  I had delivered an important piece of the protagonist's backstory as just one stand-alone factoid on the very first page of the story, and then never made mention of it again.  No one could say it wasn't there, but I did nothing to make it memorable.  No wonder none of my readers remembered.

I fixed the story, of course, but it got me to thinking.  We cram a lot of information into the first page or two of our stories.  Everything is new to the reader during that time, and they rely on us to get them oriented quickly.  Especially in speculative genres, the reader not only needs to get to know the characters but also figure out what kind of world they're in.  Therefore, anything that gets introduced at the beginning but doesn't get reinforced is easy to forget.  Therefore, it occurred to me that the beginning is the perfect place to hide information, if that is your goal.

It seems counterintuitive to state a hint that you want to be subtle about right at the beginning, but sometimes hiding in plain sight is the least obvious place, and the best to plant the seeds of a big reveal without suspicion.

1 comment:

Charlie Holmberg said...

Ah, but so hard to do! I think I have this exact problem, where I don't want to be blatant so I pull all my subtlety cards and end up masking it TOO well. Please, if you have further advice for hiding information in plain sight, do share ;)