Trust Your Reader

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by Kelsie Engen

As authors, we constantly second guess ourselves. It’s practically our job.

But since an author’s job description is…description, it comes as no surprise that sometimes we tend to both over describe and over explain.

One of my biggest pet peeves is when an author tells me something they’ve just showed me. It’s almost like a recap. For example, let’s say there is a wonderful scene where the mc just received a letter from her long lost love. The letter is poignant, beautiful, and shows us exactly what we need to know from the characters’ point of view. Then we return to the mc’s POV and suddenly she’s telling us exactly what we we’re supposed to get from the letter we just read with her. Really? Give the reader some credit, please.

It is so easy for authors to fall into this trap. We think that the reader must absolutely get this moment for the rest of the story to make sense, and so we doubt that we’re clear enough. As a result, we restate what we just showed them, thus alienating our readers into thinking that we think they’re stupid (and that we can’t write), and they skim that paragraph of recap at best or close the book at worst.

I know it’s tempting. We want to make sure our reader “gets it.” We don’t want them walking away thinking that it didn’t make any sense when we know it does because we know our characters so much better than our reader.

But they haven’t spent as much time with our characters, you say. But they don’t really know Jane or John the way I do, you say. But they can’t be guaranteed to come away with the theme I want them to get, you say. But…give the reader some credit!

No, they haven’t spent as much time with our characters as we have, and chances are that they never will. But if we’ve done our job as authors and showed them well-crafted scenes that offer insight into our characters through different circumstances which provoke a range of reactions, plot points that stretch our characters into different people, and put them into situations that hint at the theme, your job is done.

Now it’s time to step back, give the characters to your readers and hope, pray, and wish that they “get it.” And you know what? A lot of them will.

 

 

Guest post contributed by Kelsie Engen. Kelsie loves to read and started her blog to share that passion with others of like mind.

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12 thoughts on “Trust Your Reader”

  1. …“Only make the reader’s general vision of evil intense enough, I said to myself–and that already is a charming job–and his own experience, his own imagination, his own sympathy (with the children) and horror (of their false friends) will supply him quite sufficiently with all the particulars. Make him think the evil, make him think of it for himself, and you are released from weak specifications.” Henry James, From the preface of THE ASPERN PAPERS about THE TURN OF THE SCREW.

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  2. I agree. There are so many times when I read things and feel like my intelligence is being insulted when it comes to stuff like this, but at the same time I worry so much that I am doing it myself. It’s one reason I like to have people look over my work, so I can make sure that I’m not going too far the other way and I haven’t under-explained anything for fear of over-explaining it.

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  3. Taped to the bottom of my computer: “If you show, you don’t have to tell; if you tell, you don’t have to show. Be present.”

    Great post. Thanks! Shared. .:)

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  4. I think it’s also a problem of being too close to the story. You might overstate something without realizing that your doing it or do it deliberately because you want a reader to get the point but cannot yourself see it in the eyes of someone whose reading it for the first time and thus can’t realize when your overdoing it. Probably the top reason for having someone review the manuscript other than you.

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