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Trust the reader: Editor's Notes #388
April 05, 2023

When your work speaks for itself, don't interrupt.
—Henry J. Kaiser

In this issue:

1. Trust your reader
2. Tickled my funny bone
3. Interesting Web site
4. Writing prompt

1.Trust your reader
If I had a nickel for every time I’ve commented, "Trust your reader,"….

Readers, especially those who read by choice, enjoy the interaction with authors. Years of reading give the expectation of an encounter that delights, expands, intrigues, challenges, but never insults.

It is an insult not to trust or respect your reader. Here are three ways I most often see writers breaking trust with the reader.

Repeating. A caveat up front: There are good reasons for some formal repetition in nonfiction. One of my high school math teachers began every class with, "I’m gonna tell you what I’m gonna tell you. Then I’m gonna tell you. Then I’m gonna tell you what I told you." This sort of repetition is not annoying, and often it is expected. In narratives, repetition often takes the form of showing AND telling. An example: Rob was mad. He kicked the fence post. There is no fun in such reading. Even very young children can read the signs of anger. Other repetition I see is actual repetition. In Chapter 2, Millie has two sisters. In Chapter 5, the reader is told again that Millie has two sisters. Why? Readers hold whole stories in their heads. If the number of sisters is important, the reader will remember.

Explaining. Paint a picture and trust the reader’s mind to interpret it. The more a writer reports what a scene or character sounds like and looks like, the less explanation is needed.

Attribution. This could also be called he-said-she-said. Overuse of telling the reader who is speaking adds an unnecessary burden in the form of too many words, which is disrespectful to the reader. Sometimes it is necessary to state who is speaking, but if an alert reader would understand who is speaking without attribution, leave out the attribution.

And lest you should misunderstand the first point, repeating, to mean you should use alternate words for said, thinking you should not repeat words, let me tell you that said is the word you should use when indicating speech unless a reader would not be able to interpret the text with a more descriptive word. Consider these examples:
"What!" The exclamation mark shows that this is an intense utterance. The rest of the context would make the way the word should be read aloud even clearer.
Alternatively, consider this example. "Leave!" she spat out between clenched teeth. In this case, the description brings the volume down while increasing the intensity of the utterance, so in this case, the description is needed.

When you have quotation marks, pause to ask whether the reader needs any information to clarify either who is speaking or how the words should sound before you add words to your text.

Not trusting or respecting a reader is a rookie mistake, and rookies make rookie mistakes. Now if you are a rookie who does not make this common rookie mistake, you are much more likely to sign a contract for your story because you don’t look like a rookie.

2.Tickled my funny bone
Something Went Wrong in Jet Crash, Expert Says

3. Interesting Web site
For another take on trusting the reader…

4. Writing prompt
The opening article in this issue uses the terms trust and respect. Choose one of them to write an acrostic. Don’t remember what that is? Here’s a definition with multiple examples. If rhyming poems are not your thing, make a simple list of words that relate to the word you chose. This exercise is offered as a tool to help you think more deeply about what trust and respect mean. As always, I am interested in how you use the prompt.

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