Sunday, April 18, 2010

RUR (no that's not the cat purring)

Sometimes you hear the writing advice, Resist the urge to explain (abbreviated to RUE).  It's a good guideline.  Don't try to justify dialogue or exposition by explaining why you said it or delving into the backstory behind the statement.  Backstory can have its place, but you don't necessarily need to stick it in the first time or every time you remember it.  Plopping in explanations of something you've just said usually comes across as the writer nudging the reader in the ribs and saying, "Hey, didja catch that?  Can you tell this part is important?" (That description comes from Self-Editing for Fiction Writers by Browne and King.)

I have a corollary bit of advice: Resist the urge to repeat, or RUR.  Say a thing once and let its single appearance create drama and/or tension.  Of course there are exceptions to both guidelines but I'm not concerning myself with those today.  Writing guidelines often have exceptions, however, my current post doesn't get into them.

*nudge nudge*  Didja catch it?  When you write fiction, you make a pact with readers.  They agree to set aside disbelief in exchange for a good story.  It's not good when they feel that you don't trust them to be smart enough to pick up on the importance of something that's only mentioned once.  There are a variety of reasons why writers repeat themselves but right now it's enough to know that readers usually don't appreciate feeling as if they have to have things explained from A to Z, as my dad used to say.  In general, readers assume that if it's in your story, it must be important.

If I've done my job as a writer and properly set up everything that leads to the important info, readers will naturally realize that a fact or moment stands out.  They may not realize why right away, and that's all right.  Sometimes you just want readers to notice something so that later, when you drop another bit of vital info, the pieces coming together have more impact.  This keeps the story moving forward rather than slowing down in the wrong place.

RUR is one of the many ways to tighten our writing.  I'm still learning to control the impulse to repeat but I believe I've gotten it down to a minor demon.  If you think you explain too much in your own writing, don't be too hard on yourself.  It's a normal reaction when we want readers to have no doubts about the importance of a fact or scene.  You have to train yourself to recognize repetition.  You'll need to experiment to find the best way to get your intent across in one swoop, fell or otherwise.

Coming up: TMI in CSI :)


  1. RUE is one of the best bits of advice I've ever gotten from a how to book. SEFFW is by far one of the most helpful editing books out there.

    RUR is something I need to watch out for. I think I fall into this habit sometimes, making sure a worry gets across, or a symbol is noticed, etc.

  2. Hey Angela. Repeating is a common problem but it *can* be licked! One way I call attention to a sentence without repeating the info is to put it in its own paragraph. Usually the reader can't help but notice that. Let me know if you have a favorite way to RUR. :)