Hi Inkwell Readers, My computer is on life support tonight which has caused a delay in getting my post ready for today. I will be back next week with another writer’s journey post.
In the meantime enjoy this wonderful post from Jeanne about not cheating your readers.
Taking Pet Peeves to a New Level
Many new fiction writers want to create suspense in their story by withholding information. They believe it builds tension, but it doesn’t. Tension is actually created by what is told to the reader, not by what is withheld. Holding on to info only ends up frustrating the reader. This is one of my top pet peeves as a reader and an editor of fiction.
For example, a story you’re reading starts with a man getting ready to go to a black tie event. He looks in the mirror one last time and then heads to the dining room. At the sideboard, he pulls something out of a drawer and puts it in his inside tuxedo jacket pocket. Then his wife comes downstairs and they get into his car and head for the event.
Thirty years ago, writers could get away with this, but not anymore. They are savvier and consider this as cheating them. In order to satisfy today’s reader, the author will have to let us see what he put into his pocket. Now, this is just a general rule; it isn’t set in stone. There may be times when this is part of the plot, but it had better be a great plot to get away with this these days.
Let’s go back to the previous scenario. A man is getting ready to go to a black tie event. He looks in the mirror one last time, then heads to the dining room. At the sideboard, he pulls a small, black leather case out of a drawer and unzips it to take inventory. Inside are a set of custom-made, little, titanium instruments as sharp as a surgeon’s scalpel. He zips the case shut and puts it in his inside tuxedo jacket pocket. Then his wife comes downstairs, and they into his car and head for the event.
The tension in this scene just shot up by 100%, and the readers will enjoy trying to figure out what he’s going to do at the event. Does his wife know any of this? Is he a good guy or a bad guy? What are the instruments for? While it’s obvious that the author has still withheld some information in the scene, the reader can trust the author to tell them any details they should know at just the right time. They no longer feel cheated. In this case, more tension is created by telling than by not telling.
It’s important for the author to know that this would not be a good spot in the story to add a bunch of back story about how he got into this line of work or about how his mother told him he wouldn’t amount to anything. This can collapse the tension you just created.
Also, adding mundane details here would also cheat the readers. At this point, they don’t care if he owns the tuxedo or rented it. They don’t care if he just bought his Mercedes through connections and got a good deal on it. The reader wants to get to the action—or rather, keep the action going. Don’t break it up.
Let the character get to the event, meet people, and then slip away to the private elevator or to wherever his private “mission” begins. Whatever angle this story takes, always keep the action going and the story moving forward.
There are other ways to cheat the reader, but I’ll save those pet peeves for another day.
If you practice not cheating your readers, they’ll trust you and will want to read everything you write.
Jeanne Marie Leach
Author * Speaker * Freelance Fiction Editor * Writing Coach