by Deren Hansen
people, not just writers, misunderstand the concept of a learning curve.
In a graph that shows learning (on the vertical axis) over time (on the
horizontal axis), a gentle curve actually means that it takes the
subject a long time to learn. A steep curve, by contrast, means that the
subject quickly acquires the knowledge and information that constitute
As with many things, however, when we examine
the notion of learning curves more carefully, we find that for both
different kinds of stories and different aspects of stories we want
different kinds of learning curves.
For example, the
best otherworld stories have fairly steep learning curves. Paranormal
stories, on the other hand, only need gentle learning curves because
they're not too different from the world with which the reader is
presumably already familiar.
Within a particular novel,
the backstory should have a gentle learning curve. That is, a reader
should be given a little at a time instead of a big info-dump. On the
other hand, the basic information about setting, character, and plot
should have a steep learning curve so that the reader is grounded and
oriented in the story as quickly as possible.
Deren blogs daily at The Laws of Making.