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More About Inserting Explanatory Text in Writing Novels

Jun 16, 2008
In a recent article, I stated: "I found that three or four pages of explanatory text usually are quite well received." I also stated: "It may not be totally acceptable to a few readers, but overall, most will enjoy learning something new and, if the material is adequately condensed and included as part of the overall story, as it must be, it often is enjoyed enough to be favorably mentioned in reviews."

If you are going to present a character that is unusual for any number of reasons, or provide circumstances that are different, you must be prepared to provide explanatory material. A tale involving a period of social upheaval will be little understood, if you do not offer some explanation why actions result in the reactions that occur. A story dealing with the period of the Industrial Revolution, for example, would be difficult in the extreme to tell without some recounting of the effect it had upon the gentry and their mores.

As another example, let us examine the introduction of a 'different' type of character. To do so, let me suggest a look at El Tigre.

Stories of immigrants to the United States have included those of Irish families escaping the potato famine, and Germans and French fleeing from religious persecution. They also have told of some English who came to America for the same reason, and of others to escape prison. The stories of Jewish, Chinese, and assorted others' journey to this country have been set forth for numerous reasons, not the least of which was to discover gold. Stories of any of these characters, therefore, are not new and need no explanatory pages.

Johan Heinrich von Manfred, the man who becomes El Tigre, is different. He is of the Prussian Aristocratic class. Both his position and the circumstances of his entrance to school must be explained. An explanation of the weapons of the time also must be provided. It was an era when the sword and knife still were important weapons. Firearms were single shot muskets and pistols. When Johann finally obtains one of the first revolving weapons, a description of the unique difference is of great importance to the following episodes.

As the young man moves into Spain to fight in the 1st Carlist War, his activities are meaningless without an explanation of the political maneuvering that led up to the confrontation. Similarly, the story does not develop without the reasons being given for the precarious position of his mentor in Spain. When he moves on to America, an understanding of the often only alluded to basic problems leading to Texas' fight for independence, adds immeasurably to the story line.

So, to reiterate, there are certain times when introduction of information drops are necessary to the story line, and with respect to this material "often being enjoyed enough to be favorably mentioned in reviews," let me provide specific examples. I said that "it may not be totally compatible to a few readers." An unsigned review for the Magazine of the Western Writers of America did not like the "huge information drops," but admitted "the subject matter is intriguing" and that "(the book) is an interesting look at a type of immigrant not often written about." However, all of the other reviewers either did not find the inclusion of the explanatory material in any way bothersome, or actually made a point of including favorable remarks about it. The review by the main book reviewer in the monthly Chronicle of the 80,000 member Single Action Shooting Society printed in its entirety on my web page, is a case in point. The 5 star review by Mel Kligman in Amazon, the review by the AC Peoples Media Co. Review Editor, Louise Harris, and the full review by the well-known Gun Columnist John Taffin provide similar endorsement of the inclusions.

The general consensus, therefore, certainly would seem to be in favor of including explanatory material if the author believes it is necessary to, or will enhance, the story line.
About the Author
John H. Manhold is a retired professor and scientific journal editor. He is an author of several textbooks, a lexicon in four languages and now novels that often require extensive research. He provides coaching on various types and phases of writing. Please see John Manhold for more information, and an address.
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