Some books, like mysteries and police procedurals, are all about solving the puzzle. The reader expects to play detective, and it’s the author’s job to play fair and feed the reader enough information for them to work out the answer, though ideally not too soon.
How about romances, though? When you read a love story, do you expect to be an active participant, or do you think the author should do all the heavy lifting?
I like it when a romance author raises lots of questions in the first act of a book. A hint of a connection here, a whiff of back-story there, and I’m mentally making note of information I believe will be important later. So the Duke believes he’ll never marry? The movie star is in disguise, working in a supermarket under an assumed name? Please don’t tell me why, or at least, not yet. As long as I’m confident the dots will be joined before the story ends, I’m super-happy when an author piques my curiosity. I start speculating, which makes me engage with the story, and as the author adds in pieces of the puzzle, I pick up clues and adjust my guesses.
I’ve been thinking about this a lot lately, thanks to some fairly consistent feedback I’ve been getting from contests. Usually, out of three judges, at least one loves my story and wants to read the rest of the book because they like my characters and they’re dying to find out the answers to all the questions I’ve raised. On the other hand, at least one says they’re frustrated with my story because there isn’t enough information and there are unanswered questions that prevent them from engaging with the book. As Justine would say, Oy!
I spent a couple of days earlier this week going through my opening scenes to see whether I could add useful information without giving the game away, slowing the story down or indulging in info-dump. I added a few nutritious nuggets here and there, but for the most part I came up empty-handed.
I’m starting to think this is a matter of reader taste, along the lines of how much description do you like? / do you prefer the bedroom door open or closed? / where do you stand on plot moppets?
My tentative conclusion was strengthened by a post I read recently on Ilona Andrews’ blog. Ilona-andrews.com is one of my favorite author blogs, and I love, love, love the books, including the Kate Daniels series. The latest book is out this week, (you’ll probably hear my squee from across the Atlantic), and a couple of weeks ago Ilona put up a temporary post with a snippet from the book. It was great. The snippet is gone now, but the next day’s blog post (link here) is still there, and it’s hilarious. Apparently Ilona’s in-box was bombarded with emails from readers trying to work out what was going on, getting the wrong end of the stick, jumping to conclusions, asking the wrong question and generally having a fabulous time. Read the 114 comments to the post and you’ll see what I mean.
I’m still chewing on this question as far as my own writing goes, and I’m due some more input over the next month or two that should help me to make up my mind, but any and all feedback would be very welcome.
What do you think?