Controlling knowledge and characters who teach

I finished Cryptonomicon probably two weeks ago. An excellent novel. It ends with an excerpt from Stephenson’s next book and with a system for encoding information. The Moon Is a Harsh Mistress, if I remember correctly, includes in its narrative instructions for creating spy networks. What then would it make sense for one of your characters to teach another (and perhaps incidentally the reader)? How might that “teaching moment” scene characterize the teacher and the teachee?

I also just finished The Butcher’s Boy. I was looking for something unlike my usual reading but in third person (because what I’m currently writing is in third). The book won an Edgar award, which is given to one of the best thrillers written each year and it does seem to be worthy of its award. Even the title, if the book is read closely, has a payoff. I enjoyed the last few pages, though I knew what was coming up. As much as I liked the book, my disbelief wasn’t always suspended. It was easy to feel smarter than one of the main characters, but difficult (perhaps because I rarely read in this genre) to feel as smart as the other. I’m sometimes more conscious of this than others, but knowing who knows what when is probably something writers generally, no matter what their genre, need to think about. Can you write or revise a scene so readers feel smarter than one of your characters? Can you write or revise a scene so readers know much less than a character without alienating those readers?

I’m also reading Spunk & Bite: A Writer’s Guide to Bold, Contemporary Style by Arthur Plotnik, who is fun to quote: “Too much play, of course, distracts authors from the triathlon of writing—getting it down, getting it right, and getting it published.” Or, “Still, those who tilt diction to audience face certain pitfalls, among them the appearance of condescension and pandering. When preppies speak in rap, they hip-hop on thin ice.”

Next, I think, is Freaknestby Lance Olsen, which I hope I like. Again, it’s written in third person because I want to pick my influences.

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