Part Eight: Breadcrumbing

Worldbuilding takes time, which is tricky. Your readers need to know enough about the world without the story getting bogged down into exposition (which I struggled with in my early drafts). Showing, not telling is the common theme… but that is a direction… to what many refer to as breadcrumbing. How do you leave enough bread crumbs to get your reader through the forest without spending all morning baking bread?

I learned a couple of valuable lessons from some helpful and talented people: mystery is good, and details are not the story; they move the story. These seem obvious, but when writing your first real work, they can be easily overlooked. In the beginning, I had such an obsession with detail that I had pages devoted to the most unimportant tasks that even I found myself skimming over it. I wanted to make sure my readers got it, that they understood the intent, that they were so well versed in the lore that we could have a spirited debate over the finer points of Rukish to Cyllian exchange rates and their impact on the regional economy.

Around version three, I set to tackle word count in earnest. My earliest draft was an obese 175k word manuscript with more than one full chapter devoted to little more than details and noise. Some candidates for removal were apparent, some less obvious. At the time of writing version three, I was also taking a creative writing class. The class focused on short stories to refine your style and approach to storytelling. I wrote a story that featured God and Satan debating the end of mankind over coffee at a Starbucks; only we never came out and said who they were. My instructor gave some valuable feedback that has stuck with me ever since. In leaving breadcrumbs on who these mysterious characters were… I had left a loaf of bread. He said to me (and I am paraphrasing here), “If they (readers) haven’t figured it out by now, they aren’t going to.”

His comment, directed at my detailed word vomit, was at its core, about trust. You need to trust your readers with the story. You will have readers that delve into the details, that obsess over the lore, that send emails wanting clarification on plot points that may not be congruent to the story as a whole. You will also have casual readers that read your book and say nothing other than (hopefully) “you should check out this book.” One is not greater than the other, and you can’t write a book for one in exclusion of the other. You need to write something that can appeal to both.

Like many things in life, breadcrumbing is about balance. Leave a handful of breadcrumbs for your more casual fans to snack on, hide another handful well enough to reward your more devoted readers, and keep that third handful to yourself- because the mystery is what keeps us coming back for more.

Thanks for reading.

Salt and Ruin,

-Brandon

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