by Brighton Luke
It invariably happens that whenever I try to watch a movie I’ve seen before with someone who hasn’t, they pepper me with questions about what is going on, what is going to happen and where they’ve seen that vaguely familiar looking actor before. (This rarely happens with books, mostly because the avid readers I know will cut you if you interrupt them while reading, so I tend not to be close enough to anyone reading for them to ask me anything.) Recently while watching a movie with a friend, she was glued to her seat and watching very intently, suspense was high, so high that she started asking me a bunch of questions. She begged me to know who was gonna die (it was very obvious something was about to go horribly wrong, but no idea what or who). When I answered her questions she visibly relaxed, then got up and made herself an ice cream sundae, eventually coming back in and proceeded to surf the net while half watching the movie.
I killed the movie for her. Then this past week I was watching the same movie with another friend (I’m gonna plead the fifth on which movie I watch so frequently, bonus points if anyone can guess though.) She also started asking me a bunch of the same questions, (all ones that eventually get answered in the movie except for if the mother had been in an episode of Will & Grace, she had) and I knew better now than to give anything away. She was very annoyed with me, but stayed invested in the movie. When the climax of the film happened and all was revealed her tear-filled eyes were riveted to the screen rather than cleaning up the ice cream sundae she spilled over the phone she’d been perusing Reddit on when the supposed gunshot/hammer crack in the movie she was only half watching startled her.
The when, where, and how of dispersing needed information in your writing is a key skill. Not enough information and your audience will be frustrated. You eventually have to give them the goods and reveal the secrets, but if you do it too soon then those secrets will not have the right impact. By the end of the movie both friends knew who died, who went to jail and who just wandered around aimlessly on a pier, but one of them had an emotional reaction; the other one had a sticky phone. The same information had vastly different impacts based on when and how they found it out.
You can’t help it if someone’s friend gives away all the secrets in your book beforehand, but you can help it if you do as the writer. Take the time to look at all the vital moments and information in your novel and figure out when each piece will have the most impact, and see if you have it all in the right place to deliver that impact. The order in which things happen and are revealed will greatly affect how the otherwise same exact story is received by readers, and how emotionally invested they will be in it.
Brighton is a movie-fiend who's learned his lesson about spoiling films for friends—even Jennifer Connelly movies, all of which he's seen more times than the rest of humanity combined. You can find him on Twitter, Tumblr, and motivating the procrastinators of the writing world here.