This idea could be a good drama or a bad melodrama (or a country song, but that's not why we're here today). Everything depends of course on how it is written. I don't mean the quality of the prose, for bad prose can ruin the best idea, and great prose salvage timeworn or unlikely notions. I mean the approach the writer takes to the material and the assumptions the writer makes about it and about the reader.
The writer could pretty much tell that story in a straightforward manner and rely on his timing and characterization and suchlike to write a good drama. This is the approach most writers take, and it is the expectation most readers bring to a work as well.
But a few writers avoid exposition. They try not to tell the reader anything, at least not in any overtly expositional way. Instead they'll start in the middle of the situation and from the skillful revelation of detail (often in dialogue) will let the reader figure out the man's predicament, and perhaps realize from a conversation with the friend's wife why he won't provide his alibi.
No straightforward narration telling the reader why the man keeps his silence can match the moment of realization on the part of the reader who figures it out himself. This latter reader is both witness and participant. He is involved in the text to a greater degree than the reader of the expositional text. He creates the world and character and situation and explanation by gathering mosaic tiles offered by the writer until they form a picture. The reader is engaged in a creative act.
It takes more work to write this way. It takes more work to read this way. Naturally, then, fewer people attempt either and it is much less popular. In fact the difference between these approaches may also be a difference (not the
difference, for surely there are many) between bestsellerdom and literary obscurity.
In addition to the assuming the host of duties of quotidian fiction, science fiction and fantasy narratives have the added burden of plausibly creating whole worlds and societies and devices and creatures that don't presently or can't possibly exist. It's much easier to do this by employing an expositional narrative (On the planet Grelfnab the natives are blue and eat bad cheese)
or expositional dialogue ("What do you know about Grelfnab, Dan?" "Well, I know the natives are blue. And I know not to eat the cheese.")
I understand why writers do this. I've been guilty of it too. But I think it is lazy. Worse, I think it encourages lazy reading and noncritical thinking. How much more rewarding across the transaction from writer to reader to write They held hands and he marveled at the alternating pink and blue. He covered their clasped hands with his free one. As if his hand would somehow feel the color difference
. There's activity and character and description without stopping to explain a thing, and simultaneously the reader is invited to participate in the incremental building of this world. If the next line is Their doubled shadows led the way before them, holding doubled hands not differently colored
, you've made a world with two suns (or two bright moons) and made a nice little comment without ever directly saying so, and done it so much more evocatively than writing He looked at the difference in their skin color as they held hands. Hers was blue and his was pink. This system had two suns and their shadows were doubled as they walked along.
There's so much less involvement there. The reader is bringing a lot less to the party.
Where otherwise he might participate not only in the narrative but in the sense of creation, of realization, and indeed of collaboration with the writer.
I'll just go ahead and admit that most readers slide right over this kind of thing. They'll entirely miss that a series of ancient skyscrapers with basements called "propulsion chambers" might well be abandoned starships. That a character whose father speaks Tagalog at home may well be Filipino. That if a character who is fifty-seven was born in 1892, then the year is 1949. That if jets are flying in a diamond formation there are four of them. And not only will many readers miss these details, they'll complain to writers that they haven't given them enough information. They'll send emails and demand to know why does the building have a propulsion chamber, what race is the narrator, what year does this take place, how many jets were there. Even when the answer is right in the text. The mosaic tiles are in place, but most readers have come to expect to be told what the picture is. As if they can't be trusted to see it themselves. And when you're told instead of trusted, eventually you don't even realize that the pieces you're being given are mosaic tiles that are meant to form a picture at all. It simply doesn't occur to you to look. This is all disheartening, I suppose, but I can't help writing like this, and I can't help preferring to read things written at this level. It's just the way I'm built. I think the gold left out in the open for people soon becomes less valued than the buried treasure they can find with a good map and a little digging.