It’s been a while since I’ve had a good rant, and there’s something that’s been popping up a lot lately as I’ve been pulling myself into more reading, and that’s a particular pet peeve I have about authors who feel the need to explain the obvious. Perhaps it just strikes me more as an author myself, one who spent a good deal of her college education breaking down language in fiction, but it drives me absolutely bonkers. It’s the classic Trust your Reader situation, where you have to make sure you’re not over-explaining because you’re desperate to make sure that your points are understood.
Take these following paragraphs into consideration, which I happened across while reading The Tell-Tale Corpse by Harold Schechter, a book so far so beautifully written that this violation of the Trust your Reader rule stuck out like a sore, bleeding, throbbing thumb under the floorboards:
“ ‘I’ve a favor to ask, Fordyce. Nothing difficult, just a little errand. As you can see, our friend Poe here is a tad, ah, under the weather. Needs a bit of bracing up before returning to the bosom of his family. A few strong cups of black coffee should do the trick. Be a good fellow, will you, and fetch a pot from Sweeney’s. Have him charge it to my account.’
Situated on Ann Street a short distance from the museum, Sweeney’s was a popular neighborhood eatery and–as I knew from having dined there on one or two occasions with the showman–one of his favorite resorts.”
Am I being a completely tyrannical editor type in thinking that the second paragraph is completely unnecessary? Has the idea that “blatant exposition is bad” been pounded too heavily into my head? To me, this description of Sweeney’s stops the flow of the conversion that was having merely to have the narrator explain something to the reader that could be entirely inferred from the previous paragraph. We know it isn’t far from the museum if Fordyce can walk there on a “little errand.” We know it’s an eatery or coffee shop of some type if the errand is to fetch a few cups. We can ascertain that it’s popular with the speaker if the speaker has an account there. There entire point of the second paragraph is to reiterate, in a very lazy way, what we have already learned, in a much more clever way, from the previous paragraph.
Or am I completely wrong? Is there are purpose to the second paragraph I’m missing, or am I correct in assuming that the author does not trust his reader to have picked up on the very clear (to me) details in the first paragraph?
Few things irk me as much as being pulled out of a scene to have something I already figured out explained to me. Surely, I can’t be the only one. Trust your readers! They’re not stupid, they don’t need their hands held through the story, and by following something up with a needlessly expositionary paragraph, you’re only robbing your reader of that wonderful pleasure of discerning things for themselves.