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How to Trust Your Reader

Updated: 2 days ago


Kristin Noland Speculative fiction editor Crime fiction editor

The relationship between authors and readers is built on mutual trust.

The reader trusts the author will give them enough information to follow the storyline and clearly picture settings, while being entertained and shocked with plot twists and reveals!

As the author, you must trust the reader to fill in the blanks and come to their own sound conclusions.

(By blanks, I mean setting or clothing not described to the very last detail.)

When there is too much information given to the reader, they can feel untrusted and possibly think the author isn’t giving them enough credit.

Giving the reader too much information is what I call authorsplaining.

To help you trust your reader, you should:

  • Know your audience's prior knowledge.

  • Describe setting, storyline, and characters without authorsplaining.

Is it really that simple?

Yes, and no.

It sounds simple, and it can be, but just like everything else, you need to practice.


Practice holding back information.

Practice highlighting the information the reader needs to know.

Let’s get into how to help you trust your reader.

  

Know your audience’s prior knowledge.

First, you must decide on your audience.

Who do you want to read your book?

The answer is not everyone.

Everyone’s tastes are different. Not everyone reads your genre. Not everyone will be in your target age group.

If you are writing a fantasy novel, your audience will be fans of fantasy. Writing a crime novel? Your audience will be fans of crime novels.

If your main character is 16, your target audience is YA—roughly people between 11 and 16.


If your main character is 45, your target audience is adults—roughly people between 30-60.

Let’s take a crime novel as an example.

Chances are your audience will have read other crime novels or watched TV and movies in the same genre.

They don’t know your story yet, but they will know some things, such as:

If the police don’t have a warrant, then anything they find in a suspect’s home is inadmissible.

If the perpetrator doesn’t wipe down a weapon they used, and they weren’t wearing gloves, they will leave a fingerprint, or at least a partial.

Results like these don’t need to be spelled out when the crime is being committed. Your audience will understand when the evidence is rejected or questioned.

Hold back on explaining at the time what the problem is.

Not mentioning these details increases suspense. The reader will want to know when the characters figure out the problem or when they will get caught by their errors.

Until they are told the truth, they will speculate, and that’s part of the fun!

Describing setting, storyline, and characters.

You want to give your readers enough setting descriptions for them to easily picture what’s around the characters and a few details that are different or important to the storyline and the characters.

Give a general setting description first, then reveal the more important details.

For example, a scene takes place in a garage.

Simply by stating it’s a garage, your reader will picture a garage. Then you can mention what's in the garage but limit your descriptions to they aren't overwhelmed with details.

Let the reader in on a few items that tell them something about the people living in the house and home in on an important item or items the reader needs to remember to follow the storyline.

Example 1 - Holding Back:


Henry pushed the door to the garage open. The SUV was parked in its usual place and the pile of junk took up the other parking space. The bike he hadn’t used in years hung next to the tools he’d barely touched since they’d moved in. He spotted his daughter’s plush rocking horse, lowered his head, and stepped back into the house.

The reader doesn’t need to be told that the sight of the rocking horse caused him to forget why he went to the garage in the first place. They don’t need to know why he didn’t ride his bike in years or hadn’t touched the tools. The impression they are left with is … well, I’ll leave the impressions to you. I don’t need to tell you how you feel. But the rocking horse is the key to solving his daughter’s case!   

Example 2 - Authorsplaining:

Henry pushed the door to the garage open. There was an SUV parked on one side, and a pile of junk he’d collected over the years, including a bike, tools, a tire pump, old holiday decorations—the stuff people usually forget about until they need them for some project. Henry hadn’t used the bike in years. Both its tires were flat. The spokes were rusting, and one pedal was dangling from the side closest to him. He’d barely touched the bike since they’d moved in. What was it, five years ago?


His daughter’s plush rocking horse that she loved so much and would sit on for hours watching TV sat only four feet from the SUV, partially covered by an old sheet and leaning against a couple of boxes put there three years prior. He thought about his daughter and how she went missing four years ago and felt a deep sadness overwhelm him. With tears welling in his eyes, he forgot why he went into the garage in the first place. It couldn’t have been that important, anyway.


He lowered his head and saw the small dent in the SUV’s bumper that he got when he was at the grocery store yesterday. It was his fault. He’d been lost in his thoughts and backed into a truck that was parked behind him. There was a scratch on the car too that happened when he was taking out the trash. The trash can was full, and he lost control. It rolled past the SUV and put a scratch on it. He rarely ever parked it outside. It seemed important at the time, but that was years ago, before his daughter disappeared. He stepped back into the house, defeated and deflated because his daughter hadn’t been found and the police, other than keeping her case on file, stopped doing anything active to find her.

In this example, you can’t pick out what’s important other than his daughter disappeared. It’s so full of detail that the key points are lost in the amount of extraneous information—the authorsplaining.

I’m guessing some of you didn’t even read the full example because you started to get bored or overwhelmed.

The first version gave you a basic setting and trusted you to fill in the blanks. It gave you some details that hinted at the character’s personality and his state of mind. It also hinted at what his situation, or problem, that needs to be solved.  


Trusting your reader to come to conclusions on their own makes them an active participant in the story, rather than sitting there being told a story.


Any missing information will be revealed later. I could reveal some when Henry goes back in the house and talks to his wife or posts something on the internet about his daughter or calls the detective that was on the case.

Parsing out information that your reader needs to know builds suspense and creates questions in the reader’s mind that you will eventually reveal the answers to.

Not giving them every detail means you trust your reader to figure it out on their own and keep them interested in finding the answers to their questions.

Holding back is key to creating a great story your readers will love.

Trust your reader and they will trust you to take them on an incredible journey.

Happy Writing and Revising!

Kristin Noland – Speculative fiction and crime fiction editor


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