In fiction, as in human relations, trusting others is one of the most important things you can do. And I don’t just mean that moment when the character makes a leap of faith and counts on his friends (cue stirring music). I mean writers trusting readers.
‘it’s a respect thing, and my readers deserve that respect’ – Victoria Grefer, Writing For You
Good fiction writing is usually subtle. It hints at what’s going on, rather than hammering the reader over the head with exposition. It lets the reader feel smart as they work out what’s going on between the lines.
Doing this requires the writer to trust their readers, to assume that they are smart enough to work it out. That’s not as easy to do as you might think. After all, you want to be sure that they get the message, and sometimes the push to achieve certainty means you forget that trust. You over explain, you exposit, you repeat yourself. You might not mean to, but you’re refusing to trust your reader.
To quote Victoria Grefer again, ‘you walk a fine line as an author, because if you’re too vague, you’ll confuse your readers… if you’re always stating the obvious, you’ll frustrate and insult your readers’. But having the restraint not to over-explain can often be harder than giving enough explanation.
Why is this so hard to do?
I’d say that it’s mostly because we find it hard to trust ourselves. We doubt that we’ve given enough information, so we shove more in. We think a hint might be too subtle for ourselves as a reader, so we assume that others need help. We don’t have enough faith in our smarts to rely on those of others.
It can be a hard things to do, but if you have a bit more faith in yourself as a writer then you can also place more trust in your readers. If you find that you’re often over-expository then, when in doubt, trust in the hints that you’ve dropped. If they create confusion you can always add more cues in later.
Like many writing lessons this is valuable in the wider world. Many of the times when I’m most patronising and least willing to rely on others come from a lack of faith in my own abilities. I’m not sure I’d get something right, even though I probably would, so I ‘help’ too much – and by help I mean explain the blindingly obvious or take over.
It’s a huge problem in business, a subject on which I do a lot of reading and writing. Those higher up seldom trust in the people below them, and that’s crippling to morale and the flexibility of an organisation. But how much does that come from not trusting that they’ve got it right themselves, that they’ve put the right structures in place to let the business work?
Trust in your readers. Trust in the people around you. But start out by trusting in yourself. It’s a whole lot more satisfying, and a a whole lot more productive.
Picture by w00kie via Flickr creative commons