Tuesday, January 18, 2011

Trust your readers (or Sue will tell you stories of Clay Aiken)

There is a woman in my office, let’s call her Sue, who always has a story to tell. It’s usually about how she spent her weekend, or her arduous journey into the office. It can range from her amazing experiences with the Clay-mates (oh yes that’s right, the Clay Aiken fan club*) to how she slipped on the ice that morning (sometimes she falls, sometimes she doesn’t, always she doesn’t want to hear what you have to say about it, just listen).

I work in a fairly quiet office, so when people are talking, everyone can hear them. This is fine. And I don’t mind Sue's tales, really I don’t (they’re entertaining in an I-can’t-believe-she’s-actually-saying-that kind of way) but one telling is enough for me.

It is not, however, enough for her.

She tells every person she works with, as they come in, the Same Exact Story. Over and over. And, because of our lovely work environment, every person she’s already talked to, plus those of us (me) who don’t merit a direct telling, gets to hear it again. Over and over.

By 10 o’clock I’m usually reaching for my Ipod just to block her out and the guy in the cube next to me is banging his head on the desk.

This is not ideal.

The same can be said for writing. Everyone has their limits when reading a book—that thing that an author does that really irks you. That thing that makes you want to throw the book across the room—even if you’re loving the story/characters/voice/etc. That one thing can kill it all.

For my roommate it’s excessive description. It kills her when the author gets too carried away, painting each scene in meticulous detail. If it irks her enough she starts skimming through to the action. If that doesn’t work? Book, wall, thud. Next.**

For me it’s that dang dead horse.*** I can’t handle it when an author, like Sue, works so hard at getting a particular point across that it gets repetitive and annoying. It could be the character’s lack of confidence in her appearance (this one, in particular, drives me crazy) or the weirdness/evilness/aloofness of her parents, or the awesomeness that is her best friend.

I don’t mind if these things are in a story, far from it. But I find myself wishing the author would trust me, the reader, to get it. I don’t need to be told by the narrator each time her father is in a scene that he doesn’t understand her—put it in his actions, absolutely, but don’t state it in her head, again and again. Readers are smarter than that.

So I try (Keyword: TRY) in my own writing to avoid the redundancy. Sure, I am well aware that there are a few key points that I’ve been throwing in again and again in this first draft. And you better believe I’m going to get rid of them eventually.

But it’s a hard thing, trusting your reader. What if they don’t understand my character? What if they didn’t catch that hint? Should I throw in another one? Maybe just one more? It could go on forever. At some point you just have to take a breath, and let it go.

If you’re getting tired of writing about your narrator’s hatred of her curly red hair, your reader will probably be tired of hearing about it.

So maybe more than trusting your reader, you should trust yourself.

And feel free to tell Sue to just shut it already. We get it, Clay rocks.

*These days are the BEST days. *sigh*
**This is an exaggeration, as there is no actual book throwing. Though only because she reads on a Kindle.
***Stop beating it already!

1 comment:

  1. haha Sue TOTALLY reminds me of a woman at my office named...let's call her, "Mary" xoxo