Holding Your Reader’s Hand, and How Not To

There’s something appealing about storytellers that let you draw your own conclusions throughout the course of a story. You’ve been cut loose in a new world or situation, and you’re allowed to form your own opinions of it: it adds to the adventure, pure and simple, and boosts that awareness of solidarity between the reader and the character, either of whom may or may not know what’s really going on at any given point: this is how you might find yourself shouting, “Don’t do it, you idiot! She’s behind the curtains with a knife!” or something similar at a book in the wee hours of the morning. Unfortunately for us writers and artists, that feeling can be incredibly difficult to even allow, much less promote.

But why? Getting a reader involved in the adventure is the aim of almost any writer – why is it so hard to get there?

I heard a quote from Stephen King recently: speaking of his own early writing, he said that he had not been able to keep the storytelling simple and concise because he had not trusted his own readers enough.

I know that feel. My first instinct is to pad anything I write with a boatload of adverbs and adjectives, hoarding infodumps and hiding little asides in a nest of dependent clauses like the story I’m telling is a matter of legal precedent: everyone must see my world as I do! Otherwise all is lost, and the book is doomed to fall right back onto the shelf of the Half-Price Books clearance rack, just like it has a thousand times before, am I right?

In the interest of maintaining my sanity, I’m keeping several things in mind to stave off the worst of this kind of anxiety.

1) Most importantly: Not everyone is going to like the story. As a chronic people-pleaser, this burns me just thinking about it, but it’s true. Some won’t get it, some won’t like the writing, some won’t like the characters, and some will just be jelly.

2) It’s okay for some to not like the story. Others will, because there are boundless possibilities of who’s going to like what: the teen in love with Edward Cullen may wind up hating your fantasy about vampires, while the oddball old woman down the street may think it’s the best thing she’s read since The Great Gatsby.  You never know.

3) There is a reason accepted tropes exist: certain things are easier to grasp for readers of any given genre. If you’re finding yourself struggling with a very frail and detailed original world where even a slight misunderstanding on the reader’s part of how it functions may rip the story to shreds, then you may need to take a long hard look at your world and try to determine why it’s so flimsy and how to make it less so. You may need to leave some of the more confusing or unnecessary details out for the sake of story flow: if you have to hold your reader’s hand throughout with constant reiterations and explanations, it may damage its following.

All that to say, sometimes it’s alright to not disclaim or pound the pulpit every few pages – everyone is going to see things their own way, and writing like you’re trying to keep that from happening at all starts to get pushy.

I propose a daily trust fall before starting your writing. I think I’ll be doing it too, just to get it through my head that fretting won’t fix what’s not broke: just write it as best you can, put your heart into the story, put some trust in your critics, and you’ll strike a nerve. Sometimes your own, especially if you trust fall onto your funny bone, like I may or may not have.

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Here’s an excellent example: found this video yesterday and have watched it several times since. The story is there, it’s obvious, but you’re allowed to make your own interpretation. Check it out: there’s an airship.

Source: youtube.com via P.Rose on Pinterest

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2 thoughts on “Holding Your Reader’s Hand, and How Not To

  1. Ryan Holmes says:

    I totally agree with your assessment of writing without force-feeding. It is extremely hard to do; though I like to think I’ve gotten better at it. This would make a great addition to the Mantle of Mentoring section on Griffin’s Quill. Please consider posting it there, too. Maybe there’s an exercise embedded here that could help writers overcome this pitfall. You’ve inspired me to try!

  2. Ryan Holmes says:

    Awesome Steampunk video, by the way. I’m now subscribed to Soapbox. Their creative work is right up my fantasy.

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