I just finished a great (to me) Woolrich novel, I Married a Dead Man, which used a lot of explication to move the story along. Due to the plot and the isolation of the main character, it would be hard to avoid it.

Styles change, however. So does it ever work well nowadays. Are you ever willing to learn information in this way or must it all come out through dialogue and action? Would you rather be somewhat in the dark about motives or background, rather than have interior monologues to get information across? What happens when a character is isolated and there can be little dialogue?
Thanks for your thoughts.

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I assume you refer to that monster solution scene at the end where the sleuth explains how he arrived at the correct answer and explains away all the red herrings.
I have never liked those much. If too long, they are boring. If they happen the same way in every novel (Nero Wolfe) they are formulaic. They are almost always insulting to the the poor slobs who didn't get it (incl. the reader). And they always make the sleuth look like an insufferable prig.

As to how to deal with the problem in a book: I try to spread the solution of the puzzles (I usually have several) over the whole novel. I also use action to precipitate the solution. But there is still a certain amount of talk, alas.
More than that, I'm worrying about an explanation at the beginning of the protag's state of mind. What sets the plot into motion, in other words. Sometimes it's an internal problem that sends her into the night. Can I rely on the reader to intuit it over 300 pages or is it easier to state it upfront? With literary fiction, where I come from, it's more permissable to reside in her head. But in crime fiction, where I'm headed, more often the writer uses dialogue and action to convey. But what if that dialogue and action doesn't kick in right away. Are you bored if I tell you what's in her head? Ot would you rather figure it out yourself farther down the line.

Thanks I.J.
No. You can get into your protagonist's head in modern crime fiction. It's the old version that kept the detective remote (except for an occasional unexplained "Hah! I knew it.") However, getting into the detective's head also means that the reader knows everything he knows when he knows it. You have to plot differently.
I was going to answer this on your blog... I'm never quite sure how to handle the cross-posts, but I guess it doesn't matter right?

Personally, I think you have to trust readers. Sometimes, telling the reader about their state of mind ruins some of the suspense and intrigue. I'm all for showing through the writing - how people act and react and what they say and do means a lot more to me than what they think. When I can see that something's obviously distressing a character then I'm going to be trying to work it out, solve that in my head, and it becomes a point of suspense and intrigue. If I'm just told they're messed up and why, then I don't need to see how they behave the rest of the book. There's no question left there.
I think you are probably right. Better to let them struggle a bit than bore them. It's most evident in my first chapter when I'm feeling my way into the story. I myself need the explanations. Now maybe I can take down the buidling blocks for all of us.
Is it correct to assume that you finished your first draft? If so, your explication can be revised or enhanced in the next draft. The thing that strikes me with your entire post is that you pose the question at all. It's one of those conundrums that turns up often in life, "If you have to ask..." If something seems off kilter to you, you can always change it. What do your readers have to say, especially the bull**** detector that we all must have to get it right?
Yes, it's finished. And my first reader remarked on the amount of explication in the first chapter. My protagonist is a loner and I felt obligated to explain her situation--perhaps overly. I think I was feeling my way into the story still in that chapter. Now I think I can reassemble it without so much explication. Although I think it's the right thing to do, I don't mind reading books which use it to some extent. Wall-to-wall dialogue can be tiring too. But I yield to more experienced writers here. Yesterday, I cut 1000 wrds of it from the first chapter.
Thanks all. I'm ready to go forward.
I see you were talking about the back story. My feeling is that that needs to be fed in gradually and not dumped into the first chapter.
I agree with I.J.completely. There's an excellent essay on characterization by Michael Connelly in the great book, "Writing Mysteries: A Handbook by the Mystery Writers of America," Sometimes you can convey in one sentence the mood that takes pages on first look.

You've finished the first draft. Now is when the fun starts. You've poured out your blood, sweat, and tears on completing your "story," now you get to exercise your craft and turn the story into a novel. Congrats and good wishes!
Thanks so much for the cite. I'll get my hands on it immediately. I'm reading the new Mosley book on writing right now, which I highly recommend. And thanks for your good wishes. Glad I did it even if it never gets published. Thirty-five short stories was enough to not try a novel at last.
I think economy is important. Showing, not telling, is usually better...but if it would take a page to convey in action what you could dispose of in a tightly written graf, I'd rather read the graf.

And I'd always (well, usually) prefer to get into a character's head with some blunt explication than to get mired in a long dialogue or observational scene. Some writers will say "Susan wasn't fine, but she wasn't about to let Mr. Hastings know that." Others will take a page and attempt to show that Susan wasn't fine in a protracted scene...which actually just keeps the action at bay.

Of course, telling the difference and knowing which one to choose is easier when you're the reader, not the writer!
Nice to have a slightly alternative POV on this. I agree that dialogue too pointedly written to move plot can be annoying. Thanks.


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