A couple weeks ago, in one of those digression to the tangential comment conversations, I finally realized that my writing reflects my reading, and my reading style isn’t necessarily like other folks. I tend to pick up details on the first round, and incorporate them into building out the world and my expectations of the story.
For example, what I thought of as a slow opening prologue for a really dull first half of a thriller (paraphrased from memory):
Mohammed had just kicked Alif’s ball into the alley mouth, scoring a goal against the team of older boys when his sister came to tell him that his father was looking for him.
…Okay, self, anyone with a decent knowledge of recent Middle Eastern history is immediately going to go “Beirut, 1983. Either we’re about to watch the marine barracks bombing, or the retaliatory strikes. Kids, so we’re going to watch the loss of innocence. Mohammed’s about to grow up to be a terrorist.”
And then I had to wait five paragraphs of meandering family conversation and he forgot to feed the chickens, so he’s up on the roof doing chores with his sister when the airstrike hits, and his sister is horribly burned.
Really slow, right?
We then cut to modern-day (for this thriller), Washington DC, with our protagonist working on information about a bombing in the middle east. And I’m all “Goodness gracious infodump, why do we have to sit through laborious paragraphs about the situation in the middle east and terrorism and the politics of Palestine disguised as a briefing and an as you know Bob? We already covered this in the very first prologue paragraph! We know who the bomber is, get to the action!”
…apparently this is not how most readers work. Which explains why Sarah told me that I had to put something in three times in order for the reader to catch it for foreshadowing. It might not just be foreshadowing, it might also be general explanation and worldbuilding?
This might explain why I get reviews like “You can’t skim, you have to read carefully.”
Personally, I find going back and putting in explanations excruciatingly tedious. I did it in the last book, in places where beta readers got confused, because I don’t want the reader confused… but even then, I may have only put it in once, or in some cases where the alpha or beta reader missed it the first time, I gritted my teeth an layered it in a second time. And I thought that was putting in infodumps!
Perhaps I need to be more tedious. Because the non-military readers often missed a few finer details, especially as I never stopped and said in one place all at once:
“Dear reader, you are watching this from the protagonist’s perspective. And she doesn’t know a lot about military operations. She most especially won’t know that on larger operations that utilize multiple teams like this, there is always an officer in charge and a warrant officer as an XO. Therefore, you can infer that, as the teams are rapidly trying to reorganize and fill in holes, and the chief warrant officer is in charge with not an officer in sight, that things went very, very pear-shaped well before she got told by her chief pilot to get her ass in the air and don’t ask questions.
Therefore, you can now look back over things going pear-shaped in the cockpit, and realize that from everybody else in the operation’s perspective, this was just the cherry on top of a complete and total clusterf***, and FIDO is the order of the day. Once the exfil was completed, nobody else is particularly worried about it, just her.”
I bet Terry Prachett could put that in a footnote that would leave readers laughing. Heinlein could have slid it in somewhere that nobody would ever notice, but they’d retain anyway. Me, not so much. Clearly, I have more to learn!
How do you layer in worldbuilding and operational details, and how often do you repeat it?