As writers, we’re told to start in the middle of the action so the reader doesn’t get bored. We don’t want to give our reader details and backstory that aren’t necessary for understanding the current action. We want the reader to care about the character and understand the situation enough to want to turn the page.
Sometimes, however, authors provide too little information.
As I did in the title of this post.
Or as happened with the book I’m reading.
This is the third book in a series featuring the same protagonist. The story continues from the end of the last book. However, that book came out a while ago. The author, an experienced writer whose work I love, provided so little explanation at the beginning of this book that even though I’d read the first two books, I was lost. I couldn’t remember what the protagonist’s goals were. I couldn’t remember the incidents being referenced by the characters.
This is a clear case of too little information being provided. A reader picking up this book without reading the previous books in the series would be totally lost.
When I start reading the first chapter of a book, the author needs to give me enough details that I instantly care about the protagonist and want to follow them throughout the book. I need to see a glimpse of the character’s goals, motivations, and inner conflict.
I need to understand where the character is, what challenge the character is facing, and what the stakes are.
A book opening with a life-or-death situation doesn’t automatically make me care about the character. I still need to connect emotionally with the character. Otherwise, life-or-death notwithstanding, I’m not likely to keep reading.
FYI, I continued reading the book I mentioned above and eventually, I remembered more about the previous books. But it was touch-and-go there for a while. I almost put the book down.
In my writing, I sometimes start off too far into the action and then back up to add what I think are details necessary for the reader’s understanding. Do I always get this right? No. How much information a reader wants is personal. But I try to balance what’s necessary to orient the reader and what’s critical for engaging their emotions.
The level of detail in my books is part of my writing style. I’m not going to please every reader, and I’m okay with that. Ultimately, I have to decide what works best for the story and stick with that decision.
How much information do you need in order to keep reading past the first few pages? Do you put a book down if you’re confused or don’t care?