By Ekta R. Garg, Editor

February 10, 2022

The Arc by Tory Henwood Hoen

Release date: February 8, 2022

Genre: Women’s fiction

Writers make a lot of choices as they draft their stories: descriptions; setting; character development. When to share the “big reveal.” When to delay it. All of these and so many more essentials in crafting a story can suffer from a fatal flaw: telling the reader too much.

Now, don’t get me wrong; it’s a writer’s job, I know, to tell the readers things. But there’s a difference between sharing new information and emphasizing a point already made then repeating it several times in different words to make sure people got it. In other words, telling too much.

One of the cardinal rules of writing is to trust the reader. Readers are smart and informed. They bring to stories and books their own life experiences and reading experiences. Reminding readers of something over and over again can, in the best-case scenario, exasperate them. In the worst-case scenario, it’ll make them feel like the author is talking down to them and they’ll drop the book.

I don’t think that the narrative of The Arc had any intention whatsoever to be condescending, and, in truth, I don’t think it is. I do think it falls closer to that line of exasperation, though.

Ursula can’t trust herself with Rafael. We “hear” her say it in her dialogue, albeit not necessarily in those exact words, and then she thinks it, and then the narrative—those bits of story between the outer and inner dialogue—tells us again. There are several scenes that follow this pattern, and it starts to get old.

Sometimes writers do this because they’re over-excited about the story they’re sharing and want to make sure everyone “gets it.” If a reader’s intention in coming to a book is to be solely entertained and not have to think too hard about anything, the over-explanation probably works. This is why beach reads are so popular. They’re meant to be read on vacation when you’re in a lighthearted mood, away from the every-day rat race. It’s nice when you don’t have to exert any mental effort.

Nothing wrong with these kinds of books, by the way. They definitely have their place, and I’ve enjoyed many myself. If I’m in the mood for a beachy kind of book, then I’ll definitely park my brain at the front cover and just roll with it.

The trouble I had with The Arc as an Editor, though, was that it seemed like it wanted to go above and beyond that. Marketing materials list it as a romance novel. It’s also listed as women’s fiction. I think the narrative got stuck somewhere in the middle.

I think, too, I expected to be trusted more by the storytelling because Ursula and Rafael are so smart. They don’t seem like the kind of people who would appreciate having the obvious pointed out to them multiple times. If the main characters were so smart and trusted by high-powered people in their orbit to understand nuance, why couldn’t the book trust me to do the same?

Of course, Ursula also seems a little high strung. The fact that Rafael found that endearing and charming baffled me at times. This character trait of hers, in fact, gets her into trouble more than once, because she lets it take over her common sense.

It is possible, then, that this book wasn’t meant for me. Had I been the Editor on this novel, I would have definitely pushed for a touch more restraint in several scenes. Sometimes readers need to be told what’s going on, but sometimes there’s an immense satisfaction—for the writer, the editor, and the reader—to let something land and then allow it to be absorbed without subtitles.

At times, in fact, that’s what reading this book felt like: watching a show or a movie with the subtitles turned on. It can be distracting, especially if the subtitles don’t fully agree with what the actors said. Sometimes they shorten sentences or, in the case of foreign-language films, they use slightly different words that mean slightly different things to get a point across. It’s interesting to think about the people behind those subtitles and why they made the word choices they did, but as I ponder this a scene or two go by and I’ve lost the narrative thread.

As an Editor, I would definitely steer my writers toward trusting more and explaining less. That balance of telling and not telling is difficult for any author on any given day. Here I don’t think it got that balance right.