Don’t Baby The Reader

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So it is Christmas morning and you are excited to open all your presents, except when you get to the Christmas tree you find all the presents unwrapped and just sitting there underneath it.  

This is like a story where an author feels compelled to let you know everything that the character is thinking, saying and doing.

I wish sometimes I had just remained a reader being totally clueless to anything but what I liked or didn’t like. In the days before I studied writing I could blissfully read through a book and tell you simple things like “Great plot,” or “It didn’t keep my interest,” or “You should read it too.”  Unfortunately this has changed since I slipped to the dark side of writing.

Nowadays, after reading a book, I’m more of a critic. Before I couldn’t have told you why a particular book was boring.  I understand now it is because of simple things like the author not trusting their readers to have the ability to figure out what is going on behind the scenes without being told.

I want a story where the characters backstory comes out like a slow strip tease. I enjoy putting together the puzzle piece by piece with a final reveal that makes me think “aha!”  Take for instance the book I’m currently reading.  There is a pregnancy that has complications and they don’t have the medical set-up for it. So far five different characters have noted this and discussed it.

Or the opening of the last book where the character thinks over their entire childhood and then again, a couple chapters later, repeats certain key points of this very same childhood to their friend.

Then there are the characters that go through a scene reporting in their heads what the other person is probably thinking or feeling and all the reasons for that.

When I first heard the ‘show don’t tell’ mantra, I was frustrated as a writer. It is so much harder to show something than just explain it. But remember, humans are observers. Only 20% of communication is through verbal skills. The rest is observation of the actions, facial expressions or body movements. In order to create a feel closest to the actual experience we must write the other 80% as observation.

As a reader, ‘show don’t tell’ is my medium. I understand a furrowed brow, a wink, or a slap across the face. I want the mystery and the chance to solve the emotions or motives behind these silent communications on my own.

I hate it when I read, “She raised her hand, slapping his face with all of her puny strength, feeling really mad. ‘He deserved that,’ she thought angrily.”  I would much prefer, “Her face contorted into an animalistic mask of rage as she swung her open palm at his face, connecting with a resounding clap.”

To write an observation, or a ‘show not tell’ scene is hard. It is so tempting to make sure our reader understands what we are trying to say. As a beginner, I’ve made so many of the mistakes I now read in other’s stories. Information dumps, to many adjectives, and descriptions full of to much prose have been a challenge for me. But I know practice makes perfect so I continue to study, edit, pay attention and read.

The one thing being a reader has taught the author in me, don’t baby your reader. Allow them to go on the journey and feel, hear, see, touch and experience it through your character’s eyes.

2 thoughts on “Don’t Baby The Reader

  1. Such a great post! And showing not telling is something I really struggle with. I’m finding it so hard to get right. I guess there’s no easy answer to it other than to keep practising.

  2. This is a reminder for myself, I’m such a novice writer that I struggle with this a good bit… What’s enough, what’s not, what’s essential and what’s just making the story a drag? Alas, I still insist on writing.

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