Gently Does It

Or, yet another cause of reader disgruntlement.

Readers – especially readers of fiction — don’t like being pushed to a particular conclusion.  They want to feel like they got there all by themselves.

Writers, on the other hand, often have specific conclusions that they want their readers to reach: this character is good and noble, and should be loved and respected; that other character is bad and wicked, and deserves whatever bad fate is coming to him or her; this course of action is socially useful and morally desirable and worthy of emulation; that other course of action is thoroughly despicable and morally bankrupt, not to mention just plain tacky.

The urge to make all of these things crystal clear to the reader is a hard one to resist.  But resist it we must, lest our stories end up sounding like the adventures of Goofus and Gallant of Highlights for Children fame.  (Surely I’m not the only person out there who as a young reader used to fantasize about staking out the insufferable Gallant over an anthill?)  I’ve talked before about the dangers of over-subtlety, but this area is one of a handful of places where the big danger lies in the other direction.  When you’re luring the reader to your desired conclusion, you need to be subtle as all heck about it – plant the necessary clues well in advance, but don’t point at them while you’re doing it, and for heaven’s sake don’t have your protagonist monologue about your conclusion afterward.

If you find it hard to tell whether or not you’re being over-obvious – and most of us do, at least some of the time – the answer is the same as it is for worrying about being over-subtle:  Find a trusted beta reader, preferably one who’s coming at the story cold, and ask them.

Then trust their judgment and fix the problem.

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