Author of The End of The Straight and Narrow (2008), A Door in the Ocean (2012), and In the Deep End of Fatherhood (2018). Lawrence professor, swimmer, dad.
Reading a story is sort of like sitting next to a stranger on an airplane. You’re willing to listen to the stranger’s life story so long as it’s interesting. Most of these conversations go awry, not because the stranger doesn’t have a good story to tell but because he or she doesn’t properly gauge how much of it to include. Some background information is important, perhaps even crucial, but back up too far or include too much and your listener tunes out. The balance isn’t easy to strike, but the airplane analogy offers at least a little guidance: we all know when we’ve hit the point when we’ve heard too much, when we’ve lost interest, and when we’re being overwhelmed. The trouble is, the fiction writer isn’t the guy beside the stranger; he’s the stranger, or at least he’s pretending to be. The fiction writer has to know as much as possible about his or her people in order to figure which details to include and which to leave out.