I wonder how many readers have thought this?
Writers must resist the urge to explain or risk insulting their readers’ intelligence.
Most readers catch on quickly to the fine points in a story, and they like to make up their own minds about the meanings, morals and messages.
When you read a mystery, for example, don’t you congratulate yourself for being terribly clever when you figure out “who done it” before the villain is revealed? That’s a good feeling–a feeling that would be totally ruined if the author emphasized every clue by explaining its importance.
A shard of broken glass caught Nancy’s eye. It was blue in color, just like the missing vase. She picked it up and noticed the red stain along one jagged edge. Could that be blood?
Who didn’t groan inwardly and think, “Duh. Ya think?”
Better to say: A shard of broken glass caught Nancy’s eye. Blue. She picked it up, turning it in her hand. A streak of red stained one jagged edge.
Let your reader remember that the missing vase was also blue. Let them note the possibility that the stain is blood.
Trust them to read intelligently.
Resisting the urge to explain is just as important in other genres. If we are too keen to pound home our message, we risk treating our readers as if they are dim-witted. Subtlety is a better way to win friends and influence people!
- Read the Biblical account of a story the prophet Nathan told to King David. (2 Samuel 12:1-9)
- Notice the simplicity of the story. Did Nathan add anything to explain the meaning?
- Notice the emotional impact of the story on King David.
- When does the full message become clear? How does the timing and simplicity of the revelation affect the impact of the message?
- Read a scene you have written as if you were a stranger reading it for the first time. Take note of places where you might resist the urge to explain more than is necessary.