Monday, January 10, 2011

Don't Be A Holdout

This morning, Inker Donna and I were talking about withholding information in writing. We all want our readers to have surprises, we all like to cast a fog of intrigue. But when does withholding the information become more of an annoyance than an enjoyment?

I think of these holdout's in terms of TV as well. I recently finished a one series TV show that I watched off Netflix. The show left some holes, a few questions, but all in all, was pretty good and I enjoyed it.

These are my thoughts on shows that have done well, and not so well, in the information holdout (keep in mind, these examples are ONLY for the seasons listed.)

GOOD EXAMPLE: Heroes, season 1. It was a great story from week to week, keeping the viewer engaged, having a beginning, midpoint and end. I watched every week, and anxiously waited for the next week. Save the cheerleader, save the world.

BAD EXAMPLE: Lost, season 1. Don't get me wrong. I LOVED Lost. I watched every week, and anxiously waited for the next week. But it's hard to set up so many questions, with answering so few. After a while (say season 3) it gets more frustrating than intriguing.

The moral of the story is this. Think about why you are withholding information. If it's only to have the reader asking more questions, consider divulging the information and seeing where that leads.

What are your thoughts on this. What shows do you think do this well, or poorly. How about books?


  1. hmmmm, thinking about it makes my brain hurt. (But I've just been having lunch with two 6 year olds)

  2. Battlestar Galactica (remake) is one of the best examples of maintaining an extensive, consistent story arc. Ronald Moore (co-creator of BSG) was also on the writing team who wrote the amazing Deep Space Nine Dominion Wars arc. If you want to see the best writing out there, follow Ronald Moore.

  3. I agree about Lost. Ultimately, as much as I loved the characters, the writers didn't answer enough for me and I was left feeling like I'd been strung along for seven seasons. Sadness.

  4. I love a good surprise, but it's rarely done well. Best example I can think of on the spur of the moment is The 6th Sense. Talk about an amazing ending! But, I think the movie genre has an edge on giving a surprise ending because they can show visual clues. Whereas a book HAS to divulge at least a little information so that the reader doesn't leave the reading feeling railroaded. A good example, for me, of a modern book that gave me just enough is...okay, I can't think of one. It's just so hard to do!

  5. I think that JK Rowling did a great job of giving information and then surprising us with it. For example anyone ever wonder if Scabbers was really a rat? Did she try to hint that he wasn't a rat with annoying little phrases like "there was just something different about that rat"? NO she told us he was a rat with a missing toe and he was always in the right places and RON cared about him. THEN we learn that people can turn into animals. Important info. If she had sprung the idea that Scabbers was a wizard turned rat and traitor all in the same paragraph we would have felt cheated. But she didn't withhold any piece of the info it was all there spelled out piece by piece, someone is a traitor, there were four friends, they learned how to become animals, and then BANG Scabbers is the traitor. Beautifully done.
    Don't withhold and hint that there are darker secrets endlessly until your readers don't care anymore. Give all the info up front so they really care when the big twist comes. I'm working on this myself. Hope to get it right in the new project.

  6. So true, Donna! I've always loved that about Rowling's writing.