Tuesday, June 30, 2009

Trust The Reader

Many of you know that I am in a unique situation right now. I'm working exclusively with an agent on revisions to Relax, I'm a Ninja, but I'm not signed with this agent. I like to call my experience thus far "Writer's Finishing School." I've become a much more polished writer this year. Talking about what I've learned would take posts and posts worth, not to mention information I'm not at liberty to divulge currently.

But I did want to talk about one thing today, and it's something this incredibly intelligent agent pointed out very early on in the process. I wasn't trusting my reader.

What does that mean? It boils down to not trusting that your audience will "get" what you're trying to give them. This leads to over explaining and repetition, which is annoying to a smart reader (and guess what, I hear most readers are smart people).

I honestly had no clue I was doing this until I got it pointed out to me. After feeling like a total fool for about a day, I went to work on trusting my reader to understand the characters/story I was telling.

Revising Void, I'm once again ashamed at how repetitive my prose can be. It's like I'm beating the ideas to a pulp. I can hear my imaginary readers saying, "We get it already! Charles is a powerful wizard! Stacia is the favorite! Coral likes not having magic! For the love, I KNOW!"

One of my worst sins was explaining what was just said in dialogue. It's pretty bad at times. This example isn't from my work, but it's sadly close in some places:

"That's not a good idea," he said. He seemed sure we shouldn't go in the cave.

Uh...duh? At least I've given myself a ton of laughs editing. Just call me Captain Obvious. Anyway, I'm really grateful that I'm learning to trust my reader. It makes me sound like less of an idiot. Too many people already know how dumb I can be at times.


  1. Absolutely guilty myself. And had it pointed out by an editor too.

    I do it all the time. But that's one of the first things I know to look for when I edit/revise.


  2. You describe something that every writer has to figure out for herself: That readers are smarter than you give them credit for. Conversely, I think that most writers think that the urge to 'splain it to them Lucy is normal (which it is) and that it's what they read when they pick up a book; but it isn't.

    I'm not really bothered by books that spell things out so long as it's not very 'as you know Bob' in the dialog and not too many authorial asides. What bugs me is when it's far too obscure!

    I always have to cut out repetitions and over explaining. I am getting better at not putting it there in the first place, but nobody's perfect!

    I am really looking forward to reading your book when you finally get it in print!

  3. ......(blushing) I do that, too, the repeating thing, I mean. But I think I do it because I am reminding myself(the writer) of what is happening in the story because...well, I forget sometimes. Especially if too much time has elapsed between writing sessions. It is like I am trying to reconnect with the story. Thank God I can edit this away......otherwise.....ugh.

  4. BJW, yes, I am on high alert for it now. I know I won't be able to entirely rid myself of the habit.

    WW, I also hate when it's too vague! It's such a fine line to walk.

    Storyqueen, exactly! I think that's why I do it too. Thank goodness we can edit it out, hehe.

  5. This was an important realization for me as well. And, it makes me view the world in such a better light when I trust that they will understand me! All of a sudden I feel like I can communicate more. I can be as complicated as I want to be because others will get it. It's liberating!

  6. So true. Thanks for the reminder. And "writer's finishing school" isn't a bad place to be at all. Talking exclusively with an agent is awesome.

  7. A great revelation that I wish one of my crit partners would get...*sigh*

  8. "Talking about what I've learned would take posts and posts worth..."

    I would be interested in reading those posts and posts, minus the NDA stuff of course :-)

    This is really good information, and something I've learned too. The problem is knowing where the line is that you and WW mentioned.

    The worst part is everyone's different. My alpha reader likes to have things explained. One of my beta readers likes to read between the lines. So whatcha gonna do?

  9. Adam, it's not so much explaining things—it's *over explaining* things.

    For example, I would take every opportunity possible to mention that my wizards can't heal. Do I need to say it seven times? Will once suffice? Maybe a quick reminder half way through the book?

    Do I need to repeat that Coral hates that her parents won't accept her as Void? Surely my readers are smart enough to remember that piece of info.

    That, for me, is where the line is.

  10. Yeah, well that's a problem too. My first draft, I didn't repeat any information. My alpha reader complained at points, but neither of us could tell if it was because it needed to be repeated, or if she forgot because she was reading chapters weeks (sometimes months) apart.

    That's what you and the other betas are for, I hope :-)

  11. I used to have that problem. Now I worry that I've not told enough! But I've realized that if I worry just a little that I've not given enough information, then inevitably, I've hit the sweet spot.

  12. also issues i had writing silver phoenix too! yay for learning loads!!

  13. My AP Comp teacher used to tell me that all the time. I also have a tendency to repeat myself, although for me it came from being afraid that I wasn't getting it across verses the reader not getting it. I try to sometimes purposefully leave certain things out. People like figuring things out and guessing. It makes the process somewhat creative for them too.

  14. Yeah, I hate it when writers are so obnoxious they spell out the obvious for readers.

    So I was horrified when my betas pointed out ... uh, you're doing this every other line. Agggghhhhh! Me? Me?! But I'm much too brilliant to do that... Oh. Yeah, I did that.

    Why is this kind of thing so blindingly visible in someone else's work but invisible in one's own?

  15. Interesting.

    From what I've heard from my own trusted readers so far (none of them agents, sadly, but all of them definitely Top Drawer Critters), I have exactly the opposite problem of leaving the reader suspended in limbo.

    So how exactly did you used to lay it on with a trowel? I could do with some of that!

  16. Great post, except for the very last sentence. I think something evil snuck into your ibook and wrote that. That's very exciting that you are talking with an agent right now. She is probably so happy that she gets to talk to you because you're Natalie and have fifty books and orange hair.

  17. Whirl, I think the best way to practice "laying it on" would be to try something in first person if you haven't. When you get in someone's head, you end up with a lot of random thoughts.

  18. I actually did the opposite thing and under-explained throughout most of my MS, so now I have to go back and explain a little bit better... hopefully I don't end up going too far in the other direction!

  19. Um, you are NOT dumb. *bops you on the head*

    Both my books are ridiculously repetitive. This is such a hard thing to learn. But that agent knows what their talking about, and I'm so glad you have this opportunity!

  20. I'm not a writer, but I've noticed similar things in movies. Some of the Harry Potter movies bored me to tears when they wasted my time repeating things that I already know.

    There have been some (other) movies (I wish I could think of one now) where I told myself something like "I'm really glad they didn't waste my time," making me watch the entire trip ... or the entire sequence of events that I already knew. Now I can remember some: the Bourne movies (which I like to watch repeatedly) have good screen writers and editors. Also "Just Like Heaven." (I'm so glad they didn't make me watch the car crash!)

    Anyway, maybe I'm missing your point ... but I like my version of what you said, and it makes sense to me!