Last week, I talked about how telling instead of showing demonstrates a lack of trust in your reader to figure out the story on their own, and I wanted to expand on that a bit more. I legit think about this a lot! Whenever I read excessive telling in a story, I feel very talked down to. I’m sure the intention is simply to make sure that the reader is picking up what the author’s putting down, but it comes across as clumsy and potentially even insulting. You don’t want to alienate your reader this way. Dropping clues and hints instead is much more coy and clever – it gives a little wink to the observant reader, like “hey, I know you know what’s up” or “hey, pay attention here, because this bit? Might be really useful to remember about six chapters from now.” You reward them for reading well and they feel much more invested in the story when they’re picking up on this stuff.
So I got to thinking: what else besides trust should a reader expect from an author? (Or to turn it around, how can you as an author attract smart readers?) What kind of covenant should a writer have with their reader? Here are three promises you should make:
Respect Your Reader
Going along with trust above, respect is key. You as the author respect the intelligence of the reader and their ability to read between the lines, and in turn, they expect you to challenge them and make them think, feel, and enjoy the reading process.
Also part of respecting the reader is putting out the best possible version of the story. So rushed endings, lack of proofreading, and messy formatting won’t cut it. I’m biased here, obviously, but proper editing is so important in this market (as Amazon reviews can demonstrate!). Don’t neglect this important step, because the reader will ding you for it – and it pulls them out of the story, which is where you want their attention.
There are expectations built in to any genre (in a mystery, the case gets solved; in a romance, there’s a happily ever after, etc.) and there are frequently used tropes that the reader can recognize. Tropes are comforting and familiar – you know how things are going to go when the two main characters in a romance despise each other (ahh, the enemies-to-lovers trope) – but they can’t stand on their own too much without seeming tired and boring.
So flip the script in some way to make the trope fresh and new. Give the reader a sense of familiarity and convince them that they know what’s going to happen based on the trope, then wow them with the way you subvert it.
Delight Your Reader (and Yourself)
Above all, your job is to make sure the reader is going to enjoy your story! Know who you’re writing for and what they want to see. How do you do this? Pay attention to what your audience is into at the moment and think about it fits with your own interests so you can write something that’s truly you but still speaks to what they’re interested in. You have to love what you’re writing too, or else that delight won’t come through – for you or for them.