Trust Your Reader

This is one of the hardest lessons I ever had to learn about writing but it's also perhaps the single most important lesson.

So what does it mean to trust your reader?

For me, it meant not repeating the stuff that was important for the reader to know. I'd try to be subtle but clear. Then a page later, I'd say it another way. Then again, a few pages further along. My critique group was ready to beat me over the head with my own manuscript, and I can't count the times I heard, "Yeah, we got it the first time."

So trusting your reader means you don't beat them repeatedly over the head with stuff.

But it also means you don't give them every little nuance you're writing about. Your readers have life experience, and I'll just bet most of them have been in love and been disappointed by love which, if you're writing a romance, means that at one time or another they've felt everything your characters are feeling. They have that experience to tap into, so writers don't have to give them every tiny detail of what the characters are feeling. In fact, if you do all the work for them and don't let them bring anything of their own to the table, the reader will have exactly zero emotional investment in your story

The flip side of trusting your reader is learning to trust yourself and your ability to convey what you intend to. Yeah, I know. For some of us, this is just as tough as learning to trust the reader. But this is another place where critique groups are helpful. If you pare down your explanations and no one says "Huh?", pare it down some more. When your critique buddies finally start saying, "I don't get it" you've gone too far. You'll be surprised at how little you need to explain and your writing will get tight, lean, and effective.

writer's tools - My opinion of two

Do you blog? Do you follow blogs? Have you realized yet that you can spend your life reading blogs?

I've been down that road myself. I've even had "must-read" blogs. But after a while, even the best start to feel like they have nothing new to say, so even though they have good, worthwhile content, I won't read it forever.

My current "must read" blog is at This is Larry Brooks' blog. Who is Larry Brooks you ask? I didn't know either when I stumbled onto his blog, but what he had to say interested me a great deal, because he talks about something most novelists don't talk about much--story structure. The exception is all the books about Hero's Quest which never helped me much because they were rather wishy-washy about all the steps being included.

(BTW, Larry Brooks writes intricately structured suspense with lots of switchbacks and reversals and I'm currently working my way through his back list. If you like Harlan Coben, there's a good chance you'd like Larry Brooks--though Brooks' stories tend to be a bit darker.)

Now I've read a lot of books on writing novels, but I'd never read anything that really dug into how to structure my stories. My story writing has always been very seat-of-my-pants with a constant awareness that I had to keep the tension up. My end results weren't bad, doing it this way, but I've come to the realization that I was working harder than necessary and when I'd get stuck I didn't know why I was stuck or how to get unstuck. In large part, I have Storyfix to thank for helping me to see the light.

One of the things you'll find there are detailed deconstructions of several movies, including most recently, An Education, Avatar, and Shutter Island.

Examples! I love examples! They're a huge help illustrating the point and helping me understand.

About the same time I was in up to my elbows at Storyfix, I picked up Blake Snyder's Save the Cat! which is about screenwriting. Let me tell you something: screenwriters are into story structure. That's where all the books on the topic are hiding. Save the Cat! delves even deeper than Storyfix does, touching on more "beats", explaining what they are and where they should come in the story. Blake Snyder's beat sheet alone is worth the price of the book and has the added benefit of being a perfect outline for the synopsis because it highlights what's important emotionally to the story's progression.

So why is it important to understand story structure?

How many times have you started a new story, all bright and shiny and exciting, only to have it fizzle out on page 75? My beta reader could tell you that I've done that a lot. Now I know why. I'd hit that first major plot point and get stuck, not sure which way I should jump. (Certainly, this is a form of writer's block.) Of course, I didn't know enough about plot structure to understand what had caused me stall up. Now I do. Now I can see how to get past that hump in the road.

If that's not cool, I don't know what is.

BTW, there's a second book in the Save the Cat! series: Save the Cat goes to the Movies. As Storyfix does with deconstruction, this second book helps you grasp what Snyder talks about extensively in the first book by using movies as examples, showing how their structures are similar even though the stories they tell are light years apart.

So what are you're must-read blogs? What are the resources that have enlightened you?