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When Everyone Has a Secret

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Anonymous asked: “In my novel I have complicated family histories: adoptions, lovers, blood feuds! You know, the typical royal family layout that is completely too muddled. I feel like it is integral to parts of the story, but I feel like it would be awful to try to force my readers to remember all of it. Is there a way to maybe touch on that stuff without it crowding my story?”

I’m going to try to keep this short and sweet. It’s great that you as the writer knows everything about every character and all of their dirty little secrets, but what matters to the central plot and protagonist? 

So, yeah, maybe the king’s got a lover and scores of bastard sons, but how much that comes up in the novel will have to depend on how important it is. It might be something mentioned in passing or just something to come up from time to time in a scenes, but if it’s not significant there shouldn’t be scenes just dedicated to these backstories. 

Another thing, some of these side-stories might be subplot. If it’s subplot, consider why. What relationship does that subplot have to the central plot? There has to be a reason why you chose these one or two side dramas to extrapolate on among the many possible contending dramas. Is there a common theme? Is there more to a central character that we need to know? There isn’t just one reason why you might want to draw something out into a subplot. 

The last thing I’ll mention. The reader needs less explanation than you think. So, if you find that you want to keep explaining family dramas, don’t. Don’t explain it. Show some of it through scene, and then explain the necessary details as they become relevant. Less is so much more. 

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