First, a little music, from one of the Ugliest Men in Rock and Roll
It’s amazing to think of how long Tom Petty and the Heartbreakers have been around. The nice thing is, the album he released in 2010 (Mojo) is excellent, and they still put on a killer show that mixes old hits, new material, and some quality cover tunes.
Government and military organizations are famous for operating on a ‘Need-to-Know’ basis, where information is carefully controlled and parsed out only to those who need to know it. In theory, this keeps sensitive information from getting out into the wrong hands, where it can potentially compromise operations. As writers, we are the ones sitting at the top of the knowledge pile. We know what happens in our stories. We know the crucial backstory, and why characters behave the way they do, and it’s our job to parse that information out when and where it’s needed.
The subject of ‘need to know’ came up yesterday at my Writer’s Circle. During the ‘free write’ portion of the afternoon, I penned a short bit that continued something I started a week ago. The rough idea has been floating around in the back room for a while, and decided to come out front, though I’m not sure why. Anyway, this looks to be the new WiP (yeah, I was working on something else that was supposed to be my new WiP, but I really wasn’t feeling that one. I wrote a fair amount of it through December, but to be honest, it never really took off for me. This new one has. I’ve written 12K words on it this week), and I’m pretty excited about it. The reaction in my group last week and this week was pretty positive, but the question of Need-to-Know reared its ugly head.
Without going into too much detail, the story involves life in a world shortly after some World Changing Event occurs. Said event pretty much wipes out a lot of technology – computers, phones, electricity. In other words, the sort of stuff that’s been done over and over again, but I’m doing it differently, dammit! Ahem. Sorry. Anyway, the story focuses on one family living in one small corner of the world. It’s not a sprawling, post-Apocalyptic epic on the scale of The Stand, for example.
Much of the discussion yesterday focused on that big, World Changing Event. What was it? Why did it happen? To which I said, “I don’t know.” And that’s the truth of it. I know what the after-effects of this event are, but I can’t tell you why it happened, or what, exactly, happened. In my mind, I’m as clueless as my poor characters, small-town people who find themselves in the dark, with no way to communicate with anyone who’s not within shouting distance. In my mind, the Event is also not really important. Sure, the characters are going to spend some time wondering what happened, but they’re going to quickly become rather preoccupied with little things: staying warm, finding food, and trying to hold on to some shred of society in the face of this catastrophe. In this regard, I’m taking my cue from stories like McCarthy’s The Road and King’s Cell(and in Cell, we know more or less what happened, though we don’t know why. In The Road, we have an idea what happened, but it’s mostly the result of simple logic and putting together a few hints in the story).
So, my question for you all is this: Do you need to know? Granted, it’s hard to answer the question without reading the story (and, so sorry, right now, you can’t!), but would that tick you off? If you picked up a book like this, would you be preoccupied with figuring out What Happened, or could you just accept it and read on?