I cog it

I am nearing the end of Cloud Atlas, and the current viewpoint character has a very foreign (to me) dialect. The character is Hawaiian, but in a far future ‘we forgot technology’ situation. Perhaps some of this way of speaking is familiar to Hawaiians, but it’s not to me. And this is not just dialogue, but the narrator. The text is quite dense with unfamiliar idioms and phrases. Yet, I have hardly any difficulty understanding it.

Brains are good at figuring out contextual clues and filling in the gaps. I only had to think for about two seconds that ‘cog’ was ‘understand’ and that ‘beutsome’ was ‘beautiful’ and ‘hushly’ was ‘quiet’, and so on.  This is just one of an endless stream of reasons that you don’t need to do so much telling in your stories. Readers aren’t dumb. They will figure it out just fine. I didn’t need someone providing definitions, I just figured it out based on the context of what was happening. I could imagine a lesser writer feeling the need to insert a ‘fish out of water’ character to go ‘huh? what?’ at every new word so it could be explained to them.

This is the bane of many TV shows. Just pay attention next time you watch Law and Order, or some other basic cable TV show. One cop will say ‘The victim has deep lacerations on the abdomen.’ Then a second later, another one will say ‘He slashed her belly,’ to explain it to the supposed dummies who don’t know what a laceration or abdomen is. It happens every time anyone uses a word with more than two syllables. Pay attention, and you’ll notice it, though you might not be as irritated by it as me…

Anyway, all that is to say that over-explaining–or really, any explaining when you can avoid it–is not good for your story!


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