When to Reveal What Information to the Reader….

One thing many writers struggle with, especially in the young adult space, is when to reveal information to readers. Craft books and writing instructors will tell you that you shouldn’t necessarily reveal information until the reader needs to know it. Otherwise, you risk front-loading your story with too much exposition and bogging the reader down in irrelevant details that they don’t really need until later in the story. So the question is often: “Does the reader need to know this right now or can it wait?”

But I think there’s another side to the issue which is failure to reveal information early enough.

One thing I’ve noticed in a lot of novels I’ve read lately is that the writer is withholding information unnecessarily early on in order to save it up for a big REVEAL at the end of the story. This can be very annoying to the reader, particularly if the information is somewhat predictable. Some big reveals can work wonderfully. Think, for example, of the big reveals at the end of movies like The Sixth Sense and The Crying Game. But sometimes it’s like a balloon slowly deflating. The story feels like it’s just treading water so it can lead up to a predictable ending.


The question for writers is how do you strike the balance between boring the reader and overloading the reader with unnecessary information?

The answer is: I don’t know!!

A writing teacher once told me  to trust my instincts and to trust myself to be able to come up with enough clever twists and turns that I shouldn’t be afraid to reveal things that the reader could know, or might want to know, earlier in the story. I’ve found that to be really good advice. Don’t save up all your ammunition for the end. You can surprise and shock your reader all the way through the book if you have confidence that you can come up with more than one clever reveal per story. By the same token, don’t get too carried away with your own cleverness and don’t make the plot so convoluted and full of reveals and revelations that it’s impossible to follow.

So my final advice is to trust your gut as a writer and be prepared to go through multiple revisions and get the input of multiple beta readers to strike the best balance. There’s no one right way to reveal information, and each reader and writer’s practice will vary, but the pace of revelation is a good thing to be consciously aware of during the drafting process.