What Did You Learn?

October 9, 2009

General Writing: Don’t Intellectualize

Filed under: General Writing — Tags: , — ax20 @ 5:39 pm

Readers are both smarter and dumber than they are given credit for. By not being the writer, they don’t know the whole story, they only know what they are told. As such, you need to give them all the pieces of information that will allow them to form the bigger picture.

That being said, they’re also smart enough to put pieces of information together. In mysteries, the writer often gives enough information that when combined, allows the reader to discover the truth. All stories should be like this in a way. Even if there’s no killer to discover or stolen jewels to find, a story is a mystery, full of hints and clues needed to create a whole. Allow your readers to make those logical connections.

Something specific that you should allow your reader to do is infer some of the character’s thoughts and intentions through their actions. This goes back to the idea of show don’t tell. Show the characters doing things, don’t spend all your time telling us why. Don’t intellectualize and analyze everything. While you should have a reason behind each character’s behavior, you don’t always have to list those reasons. So don’t say something like “because when she was nine her father hit her, now, at thirty she is afraid of being hurt by men.” Give the information about the father (perhaps in a flashback or a discussion–how is up to you), show a scene where she shies away from a guy. Maybe include a brief thought about the father when it happens. But do NOT intellectualize it. Trust that the reader can understand this connection. It’s fairly obvious even without being specifically told anyway.

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