Thursday, September 29, 2011

What? It's not obvious?

An often repeated mistake writers do (even published ones) is info-dumping. You’ve heard all about that, I’m sure, so I’ll give some attention to the opposite problem. Fellow writer, reader and horse-rider MuseInks (check out her blog) did me a favour and beta read one of my manuscripts.

Halfway through she asked me why my main character refused to turn to his family for help. I was taken aback; I thought it was obvious. I took a good look at my manuscript and realised that no, I had never truly explained it. I discussed the issue with another friend and come to an interesting understanding.

The reason I hadn’t felt like I needed to go into depth about his reluctance was that he acted like I would have. My friend on the other hand would have immediately turned to her family in the same situation. I had been defeated by my own idea of substated facts!

Our experiences change the way we view things. As writers we can’t know how the reader will interpret our characters and their actions. A reader who has had a family member suffering from cancer will be able to relate to My Sister’s Keeper on a different level than most.

As writers we will need to compensate our readers’ “inexperience”. A word here, a memory there.

It’s not easy to see through our own “blind spots”, the things that are so ingrained that we take them for granted. This is when a writer is blessed to have a beta reader or critter to point it out for them.

For the times when you don’t have that handy beta reader around, make sure you have some kind of answer for every “why does she do that?” you can find in your story.

What kind of blind spots have you experienced? Have you read a novel where you just couldn’t understand why the characters acted the way they did? Feel free to share your examples.


  1. Excellent post! I tend to err on the side of giving too much information, and usually have to tell myself to trust the reader more, but you make a very good point about not expecting the reader to automatically know everything you do. It's a delicate balance, isn't it?

  2. Very delicate! And after a crit I did just after publishing this post, I realised a writer can infodump without explaining enough to get the point across.

    But then, the fact we all have different experiences makes for more interesting book discussions. We must leave some fun for the readers, ya know!

  3. Very interesting post. Makes the advice to "write what you know" take on a whole different meaning. That's why beta readers are so necessary. They help us see our blind spots. I know what you mean -- one of my most trusted betas is excellent at rooting out my personal blind spots that often, unfortunately, afflict my characters as well.

    Honored to be one of your betas. Keep on keeping on!

  4. Thanks Ami, it's great having you as a beta reader.