Narrative is key in writing. Not just in terms of plot, but in description. How much do you reveal? How much certain knowledge do you give a person, and how much do you withhold? While painting vivid scenes, characters, and motivations is important, I’ve come across a few cases which prove that less can indeed be more.
The Pledge Trilogy (Kimberly Derting) is a perfect example of this minimalist approach. In all three books scenes are told from the perspective of various characters hinting at actions and motivations, driving you towards certain assumptions while leaving you with a host of questions and a burning desire to know what happens next.
I’ve read plenty of books that leave you guessing, but never have i seen it done with such minimalist description which is slowly built upon, inch by incremental inch. Characters, motivations, and questions are slowly revealed over the course of the book and you can only be relatively certain when you reach the end.
This approach isn’t just found in books, but the narratives of video games as well. The character Corvo in Dishonored (Bethesda, 2012) is a perfect example. A foreigner to Dunwall, he is the Empress’s body guard and–if hints in the game are to be believed–the father of her daughter. The game starts with a letter from the Empress bidding him to search other kingdoms to see if they have suffered from a ‘rat plague’ that is currently afflicting Dunwall. However, the words–and the tone–go far beyond the commands of an Empress to her bodyguard and hint at a closer relationship between the two. This is never explicitly said, but is heavily implied by later events in the game.
Some point after you rescue Emily–the Empress’s daughter–from kidnappers she shows you a picture of Corvo that she drew with the word ‘Daddy’ scrawled across the top. Again, this tantalizing clue seems to bring confirmation as well as doubt. Is Corvo Emily’s father, or is he simply the only father figure she’s ever known? It’s a question that is constantly bounced back and forth throughout the game and even as the ending credit’s role.
While this ‘less is more approach’ is difficult to do, it can be very rewarding to achieve. After all, what better way to leave a person guessing than to make them walk on uncertain ground?
Disclaimer: I do not own the imagery used in this post and have no claim to it.