Monday, September 26, 2011

Rehab for Explainers

As writers, it is important that we create words that a reader will understand.  If we don’t, we lose the reader to confusion and we don’t want that.

However, to counter this, a lot of writers over steer.  From this common over explanation came the phrase, “Resist the Urge to Explain”, or its acronym, RUE.

A big part of RUE is showing versus telling.  Telling is explaining while showing is letting the reader make their own conclusions.  This includes things like Swifties and telling of emotions (John was angry).

It mainly has to do with explaining things that are unnecessary (John jumped over the fence.  He was now inside the compound.).  Repeating information that was already given or explaining things that were implied earlier on is slowing down everything for no reason.  You have to be subtle in your explanations (this includes people telling one another the things you’re trying to explain).

Another common place where writers over explain is character motivations.  If you feel the need to jump in and explain why the character is acting a certain way, your character isn’t defined enough (John picked up the money and took it to the man who dropped it because he was too honest to keep it.).  Before the event happens, your reader should already know what kind of a person your character is.  Or other times, the motivation will be obvious and there’ll be no need to explain it (John gave one look at the rotting corpse and threw up, because he felt sick after seeing those maggots coming out of the man’s mouth.)

The basic principle behind RUE is that your readers aren’t stupid.  They can figure out that John is in the compound if he jumped over the fence or that Peter laughs because the joke was funny.

Trust your readers and trust your writing.  If you feel the need to explain something, rather rewrite and get the information in without explaining.


  1. Showing rather than telling/explaining things has always been a challenge for me, along with not repeating things.

  2. The same here, and I never even realised I was doing it. I am currently working on rooting it out.