I try to keep the rules of narrative fiction firmly in mind when I write, if only so I know when to break them. There is an implied covenant between writers and readers. Readers do authors an honour when they invest time and money in reading their books. They need to trust they are in capable hands, that they’re in for an entertaining ride. We’ve all experienced that sense of disappointment when an author lets us down. Our hero might act completely out of character in order to get out of trouble. A wholly contrived coincidence might save the day. The climax might come and go with no sense of resolution. The author has betrayed the reader’s trust.
Likewise, authors need to trust their readers. Great stories result from an active partnership between the two. One writes the book, and the other brings it to life in their own imagination, creating a story which is unique and personal to them. Once a reader invests in a book, they own it to some degree, and are much more likely to get caught up in its creative web. They’ll want to love the story.
This is why it’s so important to leave room for readers. Don’t prescribe everything to the nth degree. Allow readers some creative control. Pique their interest with a few choice descriptive phrases, instead of drowning them in detail. Ernest Hemingway is a master of this. His sentences are simple, direct and unadorned by flowery description. One of his most famous stories is this simple six-word sentence.
‘For sale: baby shoes, never worn.’
Everyone will fill in the backstory to this sad tale differently.
Writers also need to trust that their readers are clever and insightful, as they invariably are. It’s tempting sometimes, when telling a story you’ve sweated blood over, to labour particular points in case the readers don’t get it. To over-explain, in case they miss a clue, or can’t understand how a character feels. Or in case they fail to hold onto important plot points between chapters. I’ve done it plenty of times, just talk to my editor! But nothing turns me off as quickly when I’m reading, as being patronised by the author. I don’t want to be that kind of writer. I want to honour the trust between me and my readers. This will be at the forefront of my mind as I forge ahead with this new manuscript.