Being brutally honest about books

Wednesday, 16 August 2017

Footnotes in Novels: Yea or Nay?

The novel I'm reading at the moment includes a feature I hadn't noticed I disliked so much: footnotes. In fact, I'm ignoring the footnotes, they're annoying me so much. This annoyance leads me to this post, which I believe is on an original topic.

Footnotes can be useful in non-fiction, as they allow the author to provide more details or context for a point made in the main text. I absolutely understand the point of them in non-fiction, where the more information there is, the better the reader's understanding. Footnotes in non-fiction are fine. No complaints from me.

I keep repeating the word "non-fiction". Know why? Because I don't believe footnotes have a place in fiction, or in novels.

When you're reading a novel, there's a story there, which takes place within a certain world, and the writing should flow. Things should make some sort of sense. Footnotes interrupt the flow of the writing; they disrupt the story by making you take your eyes away from your place on the page. The last thing I want when I'm getting into a story is to be interrupted. What I want is for it to flow and be easy to read, and I don't want interruptions of any sort, even if it's to add more context or details about the sentence I just read. Especially not if it means I have to leave a paragraph, read a footnote, and find my place and get back into the story.

Not only that, but footnotes in novels are plain unnecessary. All the information you need in order to understand the story and the world in which it takes place should be there in the main text. In the book I'm currently reading, I found early on that the extra information in the footnotes confused me further, rather than explained things. There is such a thing as too much detail, and footnotes in novels just go to prove once again that concise is always better. As I said earlier, I'm ignoring the footnotes in the book I'm reading, and I don't think I'm missing out on anything important. This means that the footnotes are not needed, and therefore shouldn't be there.

This is a short post, but I've made my stance clear: when it comes to novels, footnotes are unnecessary and annoying. In some cases I might even say that footnotes are lazy writing - if you can't fit all the essential information in a paragraph, rewrite it so you can, rather than relying on footnotes. Thank goodness this technique is rare in fiction, and years could pass before I encounter it again.

So there you have it. I'm a firm believer that footnotes in novels do not need to be. But what do you think? Are footnotes in novels ever a good idea? Or are they a waste of everyone's time? Are there exceptions?

I'm Alexandria, a 19-year-old reader/writer/blogger from New Zealand. I love language, history, and sci-fi. Hi! I'm always around if you want to talk, which you can do via comments, the contact form, or Facebook.

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