Writer's Tip: What is Authorsplaining?
Updated: Oct 1, 2022
Have you ever read a story, novella, or novel where the underlying themes came off the page at you so often and so bluntly that you feel the author standing behind you the whole time, screaming the main existential angst of their tome into your earhole? I call this authorsplaining.
Showing, not telling, is generally sound writing advice. So is the avoidance of over-telling. When you belabour a point - especially a character or plot point - over and over again to your reader, you slow the pace of your story. Your narrative drags to a shuddering halt and without momentum, reading becomes mired in a sort of sticky, slow purgatory. This is hard work for your reader. It's also the hallmark of a writer doubting their own abilities, and one who isn't certain of their story.
Writing isn't an exercise for the faint-hearted. I don't know any writers who put pen to paper, or finger to keyboard, and do not have doubts. There's a lot to worry about in a story: the action, the setting, the characters, the plot...is it enough? Is it too much? Will it work? Will it fail? Most authors I know are anxiety-riddled, doubt-laden, unholy hot messes - this one included.
The things is, you can edit out your doubts. I'm a fairly organic writer. I plan a bit, but I begin a WIP knowing it's half-baked. Much of my story refinement happens in edit. The transition from first to second draft is always the biggest, the harshest, and the hardest. By the third or fourth draft I've chosen most of the specifics and cut off the 'loose threads'. The thing has a defined shape in my mind. My readers trust me to sweep them away on a journey - and this effect is undermined if I leave my doubts on the page by bashing the story-points home.
The bond between storyreader and storymaker is a wonderful, powerful thing. I trust my readers to get that my Always a Princess heroine Syeira is stubborn and proud, and that Louisa from A Christmas Salon has trust issues. I do not need to remind the reader of this every few pages. Showing it in scenes via behaviours is far more powerful in any case - and calls upon me to believe in my reader's imagination with as much fierce conviction as the reader displays in mine. When I give them a scene where a woman scrunches the fabric of her skirts and struggles to focus, I trust they know she is anxious and that clenched fists mean a person is tense. This is part of our agreement when the reader opens my book. It is why storytelling works at all.
As I work and rework a story I become more confident in what I want the work to do. It's a process, an evolution, a learning and a becoming. All of this is accompanied by doubts that can affect the way my words land on the page. It is my duty to address this before it reaches my readers. My doubts as a storyteller are not their problem. So I edit out the parts that undermine the power of the words, even if I'm not feeling powerful when I do it.
If I have to beat the reader over the head with a plot point, or tell them a hundred times that a character is humble, I need to rethink those parts of my story. Perhaps Mr Humble is a great big jerk, and I can't get his character to demonstrate humility because he really isn't a humble man. If I keep forgetting the story is set in Mayfair, maybe I need to look into moving the setting to Bath - but my point stands. Better to adjust my words than authorsplain my story, because that's 'not at all diverting', as my Regency-era ladies might say.