In fact, it is many different sorts of drugs, producing many different effects, depending on the chemical one is consuming, and one’s own brain chemistry. What produces euphoria in one, might produce heartbreak in another, profound insights in a third, mere boredom in a fourth.
What all of these drugs have in common–or, at least, the subject of today’s sermon–is the time-release nature of the capsule the reader is consuming. One might say that the reader is consuming words at a given rate; but more important is that the reader is consuming information. Every sentence, every paragraph, every comma, is designed to control the flow of information to the reader. And that sometimes means speeding it up, sometimes slowing it down.
Not long ago I had the insight that two of my favorite things to do as a writer are: to tell the reader things, and to not tell the reader things. Let me expand on that a little. When I say “tell the reader things” I mean, in particular, conveying information by the expedient of simply saying it. “His name is Mark; he is a good friend and a jerk.” When I speak of not telling the reader things, I mean giving the reader the information needed to form his own conclusions: “Adam spoke about Mark in notably uncomplimentary terms. I couldn’t argue with anything he said, though it made me uncomfortable and a little sad.”
There are times for doing each of those, and one of the main factors to consider is: how fast am I dispensing information? Am I in danger of making the reader irritated or impatient because he wants to run ahead of me? Am I asking him to hold too much in his head without giving him time to process it all?”
Before this post gets too
loaded with information long, I’ll just make one recommendation. If you want to want to see the dispensing of information performed perfectly, delightfully, elegantly, go read Isle of the Dead by Roger Zelazny.
And that will do for now.