Just-in-time expositionThe conversation veered towards JK Rowling and the secrets of her success among mainstream readership (outside of science fiction fandom). Somebody (perhaps one of the Haydens) had this theory. In many SF/F books the reader needs to notice details whose significance he or she can't understand immediately, and store them for later use, to be remembered and interpreted later in the reading process as more information reveals itself. But Rowling does not make the reader do it. At any point in the book she reveals only as much information as is needed to understand what goes immediately after. One guy in the audience aptly called it Just-In-Time exposition. I wonder if anyone else in the room noticed that all this talk about JK Rowling seemed to have conjured Harry Potter himself. He was in the audience!
How fast is your train moving?And here's a snappy piece of advice given by Theresa Nielsen Hayden: if the passengers are critiquing the scenery, the train isn't going fast enough. Writers often think they have to give more exposition to the readers, whereas in fact they need to give less. If the plot moves fast enough, readers are less likely to notice inconsistencies or incompleteness or logical gaps in the exposition.
Patrick and Teresa Nielsen Hayden at a kaffeeklatsch at Readercon. Here are more of my blog posts and pictures from Readercon 2006.