Trust the Reader

trust2Maybe it’s a psychological thing, some innate fear that our readers won’t pick up on our subtlety. So we over write. I’m a huge offender of this, but I’ve seen some published works that are pretty bad, too. Have you seen the “almost” sentence?

Jake was so excited to see her, he almost forgot he was depressed. Almost.

The problem with this is the redundancy of “almost.” At best, it’s a one-word redundancy. At worst, it’s slightly offensive to the reader, as if they’re not observant enough to catch the first “almost.”

Throughout my first good novel (I don’t count my first bad novel), I did this all the time. My mentor, Rob Roberge, left comments throughout the text: Trust your reader. We get it. You’ve already said this. This has already been established, etc.

Here’s how it comes out more often than not:

“Do you like the drink?”

“Yes, I do. I like it. It’s good.”

Here, we have someone giving four answers (all the same) to one question. This doesn’t make the character over-eager, it makes them annoying. Or, on a more basic level, we might have something like this.

Jake shoved his hands in his pockets and slumped his shoulders. He walked through the halls of North Chester High School avoiding eye contact with other students. As he passed by, people stared at him. “What’s wrong with Jake,” they whispered. “He looks pretty upset.” Jake, you see, was depressed.

Why the tack on sentence us telling us Jake was depressed? We already got that from his body language and what others were saying. When you’re editing, go back through and look for instances like this, where you’ve over explained something simple. Trust your readers. But, more importantly, trust yourself as a writer. You’re good enough to show something without having to follow it up with a telling statement.

16 Comments on Trust the Reader

  1. Great post–I was actually edited for some of this, recently. I love the idea of letting the reader follow the action and piece things together. However, it’s a tight-rope b/c you don’t want to leave things too vague/unexplained. Critique groups are great to catch these over or under-tellings.

    • Heather, thanks for the comment! I agree, critique groups are great to catch these things. Sadly, not everyone has a good critique group. Maybe I’ll blog about that some time soon. 🙂

  2. Yes, I am still stalking this blog.
    I remember talking about this particular topic in class. I don’t feel like I over write all that often, but there have been several instances in which I’ve looked back over previous chapters and gone, “Dang!”
    The reader is obviously a smart person to have read your work when there are literally millions of writers out there, so you should respect that. Less is more, in a manner of speaking. Cut down both dialogue and prose where you can while still keeping the idea going. Generally, subtlety tends to mess with the reader more than melodrama. You could go on and on about how “tears made streams down Elaine’s face as she cried with the suffering of a thousand pained souls” , but it’s cheesy and annoying, not to mention about as powerful as a feather duster.

  3. alexandria heins | March 26, 2012 at 7:41 pm | Reply

    I just LOVE when I come across this in reading. I think is takes so much away for a story that sometimes I don’t have the willpower to finish the book after a few of them. Unless there’s a point to adding the excess murrr, as in a writer puts a entire page of someone complaining or a half a page about crying, and they do it specifically to gain a reaction from the reader. But then the argument can be made that it’s still just murrr.

  4. Alyssa Varney | March 27, 2012 at 6:29 pm | Reply

    When you write a story or novel you always want to make sure that the reader can understand what you are talking about. You want to trust that your reader will make the best picture in their head of your story.

  5. Brittany Walters | March 28, 2012 at 9:55 pm | Reply

    Sadly, I do have a bad habit of overexplaining stuff in my stories. I do somehow miss editing these things out when I go back over my stories, and I have no idea why. It just doesn’t occur to me that I overexplained. I also add more to speaking than I should. My characters should speak far less.

  6. Ashley Lopez Rivera | March 29, 2012 at 6:10 pm | Reply

    I don’t think that i have ever done something like this… well, maybe i have. I don’t quite remember. but whatever. i think this is some good advice toward things like this………yea…..

  7. John Powderly | April 3, 2012 at 4:58 pm | Reply

    I’m actually guilty of this. I usually try too hard to make it sound like the character is actually talking and end up making up them sound like they have a speech impediment or something.

  8. Whitney Dunn | April 5, 2012 at 8:26 pm | Reply

    Reading a book where the reader thinks you’re stupid or won’t understand is frustrating. I can pick up on things just fine. When the writer plays games like using almost it’s annoying. Either the character did or didn’t. Just leave that part out then.

  9. i aboslutely hate when the store repeats things over and over again. I feel like the author is only repeating him self like i did not understand the first couple times…you know? Like maybe if it was said like in chapter like 1 and you repeat it towards the end to remind the reader might be better then to just say it over and over again!!

  10. Darryl_Sanderson | April 23, 2012 at 7:57 pm | Reply

    I notice I do this alot. I guess I think nobody understands what Im trying to et at when I write but yet when I read something like that I feel like they are being redundant

  11. i actually do this alot i am always repeating my self and just droping huge hints that dont need to be there because it was all ready very obvious so this helped me notice alot of my mistakes so i can change it

  12. Dustin Garza | April 30, 2012 at 2:49 pm | Reply

    The “almost” statement doesn’t really bug me. i’m not that great of a reader as i am a writer but it helps me out from time to time.
    The body language part is pointless. if his body language shows the way he’s feeling it DOES NOT have to say he is depressed. that irritates me.

  13. Adrian hernandez | May 7, 2012 at 3:46 pm | Reply

    i’v noticed i have done that alot in my writing but making mistakes is just another steo foward to writing something that will eventually will be great

  14. Cameron Rohskothen | May 16, 2012 at 11:12 am | Reply

    This seems to be a common fear and is especially true to myself. I find that I overwrite all the time because I try to convey a certain idea that seems like it would be complicated to the reader, so I try to explain it in 100 different ways until even a baby could understand it. Sadly, this really does drag my writing down. As for the “Almost” thing, it does not bother me in the least, if anything it boosts the drama of the statement.

  15. Shaquille Dudley | May 23, 2012 at 9:51 pm | Reply

    Well this the name fits the topic “trust”, Being able to trust in the idea that the reader of your writing will undertsnad exactly what you are trying to say, instead of just worrying that you dont make sence, always twiking and changing what you had in mind at first. However this does not mean that you should just write whatever you still want to be clear in all that you say in your writing. Thus when it comes to not trying to overwrite you must simply brake all the clutter in your writng down.

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