Trust the Reader

One of the hardest things I’ve learned recently as I’ve worked on editing my latest work in progress (WIP) is that I need to trust my reader. Instead of telling readers what to think or feel, and detailed feelings of the characters, I need to let readers filter the character’s words, actions, and experiences through their own life lenses. By doing this my written words will more deeply impact and stick with those who choose to partake of the stories I invent. If I am continually telling everyone how to react, they will leave my world feeling manipulated with the situations and scenes only contrived stage plays instead of the intense personal experiences they could have been.

Photo by Clay Banks on Unsplash

Let me give you an example of what I mean. This selection is from the first draft of my WIP.

Rowan lay in bed, fear and pain from the disaster of her party and her baby sister’s wailing pounded in her head. Icing and chocolate lingered in her mouth from the cake she’d eaten. Her damp clothes smelled of the woods and despair weighed heavy on her spirit.

This next selection is revised to trust the reader. Notice specific emotions are no longer given. Only actions, thoughts, and reactions made by the character are supplied so that the readers have license to interpret these through their own experiential lenses and decide how they would feel in similar circumstances.

Rowan lay in bed, her hand clutching air at her throat, the disaster of her party and her baby sister’s wailing echoes in her head. The sugary sweetness of icing and chocolate lingered in her mouth from the single forkful of cake she’d eaten. The damp, earthy smell of the woods fragranced her clothes and the evening’s events draped a heavy weight on her spirit.

Personally, I prefer the version two. I’ve found for myself, I tend to do more telling and specified emotions and reactions in the first draft. When I’m trying to get the germ of the story down as quickly as possible, creative ways to relay feelings, thoughts and emotions get pushed aside. Then, in drafts two and three, I replace the emotion words, like “happy,” “sad,” “angry,” and “afraid” with actions or reactions that lead a reader toward the feeling I am trying to evoke. If a reader comes up with a different conclusion, either I did a poor job in my choice, or that reader has a set of experiences very different from mine.

This can happen when writing about various cultures or with readers from cultures vastly different and/or unfamiliar from the writer’s own. It is important to have beta readers from the culture read an author’s work to be certain the reactions evoked are the desired ones.

So, what do you think? Which do you prefer? To be dictated to by the author, or to be lead? Drop a note in the comments below and thanks for reading.

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