common sense

Writing Is A Bad Habit: Don’t Talk Down To Anyone! a.k.a. Respecting the Reader

You might notice, my literary foodies, that so much of what we do as authors revolves around the reader.  I don’t think I need to outright state why that is.  Well, no, I believe I should, because I’d hate to start a discussion without being clear about the most critical core concept of said discussion.  We cater to the reader because the key, core, primary purpose of any work of fiction is to entertain the reader.

Yes, there are often many other purposes, meanings, and deeper concepts behind our craft, but it doesn’t change this primary purpose.  No matter what we wish to teach, what themes we explore, or what other agendas we may be pursuing, the baseline criteria of success remains entertainment.  So, to that end, we strive to keep the readers happy and engaged with our works.  One key element of this eternal quest that is sometimes left by the wayside is the concept of ‘respecting the reader’.

While I want to avoid a recursive definition, in the end, respecting the reader means just what it says.  We, as authors, must always remember that our readers are independent minds and are often as smart, possibly smarter, than ourselves.  We must treat the reader as a guest in our fictional worlds, not as an intruder and not as a child.

In the simplest examples I can think of, we can look at your typical fantasy world.  In such a construct of imagination, we may feel that we have to minutely explain every new concept that exists.  Part of this feeling is justified and necessary, hence the need for smart exposition.  At the same time, though, we must have faith in and respect the imaginations of our readers.  Not every minute aspect and detail must be told to them.  They’re smart, they can fill in blanks, and they can apply their real-world experiences to smooth over gaps.  Don’t treat your reader as a fool and you will earn their respect.

This also plays along with reader engagement as well.  Treating them as idiots and wasting time with needless minutae bores them, while making them think and use their imaginations engages them and stimulates them on a mental level deeper than simple info-dumps.  This is a vital a concept to more down-to-earth genres like mysteries and contemporary dramas as it is to the far-flung realms of fantasy and sci-fi.

This also applies to the flip-side of such scenarios.  Expecting the readers to be able to figure out things they simply could not, such as presenting a mystery whose clues are never revealed, is equally insulting.  It is akin to inviting a guest into your home for a party, then brushing them off after confining them to a small corner room.  They can hear the party-goers enjoying themselves in the other room, but are kept out of the fun.

This only scratches the surface of reader respect.  There are many ways to earn their respect and each carries with it the opposite way to throw that respect away.  Judging your level of reader respect may be very hard to do on your own, being so close to your own work, so this is one of the many areas where having a wide range of beta readers can help you with.

At the end of the day, remember, like with all other forms of respect, a good rule of thumb is to treat your readers in a way you would expect to be treated reading your favorite author.  Between that, common sense, and following the guidance of your beta readers, you can be an author who welcomes the rest of the world to share their vision!

Until next time, good reading, good writing, and good luck!

Monday Musings: We Need Action Instead of Tears a.k.a. Common Sense and Guns

I’m tired.  Like so many other Americans, like our President, like anyone who has a heart, I’m weary of the almost clockwork report of a mass shooting.  Once again, someone has murdered nine and injured far more, laden with firearms … guns that the shooter’s father didn’t even know the gunman (who still lived with his father) had.  So many lives have been lost in similar fashion over these past years, far more lives than any terrorist attack or the other conventional boogeymen dangled before us by our politicians on a regular basis.

Fatigue shouldn’t be used as a reason for inaction however and, while we should grieve for the fallen, our tears won’t be of much use either.  Some kind of action needs to be taken, but common sense action.   Much like fatigue and depression are of little use, wild reaction is pointless as well.


Into the Action: Dressing To Impress And Hopefully Not Die!

Today’s writing article will be a brief one.  No, not because I’m too busy (though I am) but because this topic is so common-sense and so straight forward that there is really little room to say anything other than the point itself.  So, what action-related topic is up for grabs today?  Well, I’m glad you asked!

Today, we are looking at costuming vs. action.  I use the word ‘costuming’ but I mean, of course, whatever your characters are wearing in an action scene.  Though often related to the characters themselves, it is still, essentially, ‘costuming’ as you, the author, have final control over it.  However you want to look at it, what a character is wearing in an action scene can greatly alter the course of said action scene.

All it takes is a little forethought and common sense to understand how this can be important.  High-heel shoes are horrible for movement and any kind of fighting.  Baggy clothes may be easy to move in, but also present loose folds that can be grabbed or manipulated.  Armor can have any manner of effects beyond raw protection: light armor is easier to move in but far less durable, heavier armors might be more protective but can be heavy and fatiguing to wear.  Powered armor, like Iron Man, may be amazingly powerful but subject to energy concerns, bulkiness when unpowered, and vulnerabilities to anything that disrupts electronics.  Masks can protect one’s identity or have built-in protective lenses but, depending on how they are worn and attached, can ruin peripheral vision and be easily manipulated to obscure vision further.  Let’s not even start to talk about capes!

The point is that these are all possible factors you should consider in an action scene when describing your characters’ clothing.  Not only can it provide all manner of hooks and sequences you can add to spice up your action but it can speak volumes about a character and their familiarity with a situation.  An ex-military woman who has come to expect trouble around every corner won’t be wearing a tight dress and high-heels unless it’s a special occasion, for example.  A laborer who is caught in a firefight will probably still be able to be physical, as he will be in sturdy work clothes designed for movement.  A fantasy knight will be clad in head-to-foot armor when expecting trouble and probably still be in tough leathers or a mail coat in other situations, regardless of gender.

So, remember, the clothes do sometimes make the man.  Remember to tailor your characters’ wardrobes to them and the situation and never forget how you can use what they do wear to add new twists to an action scene.

Until next time, good luck and good writing!