Mimsy Were the Borogoves

Book Reviews: From political histories to bad comics, to bad comics of political histories. And the occasional rant about fiction and writing.

Let the reader be smart

Jerry Stratton, November 2, 2012

photo 1 for Smart Readers: photo 1 for Let the reader be smart

What an environment to write in. And I’m stuck talking about writing!

I’m sitting out in the dark right now with the stars overhead. The touchingly funny keynote by Jacquelyn Mitchard is over (that’s where the amazing sunset came from). Most of the attendees are now settling in for the night, but the hard-core late-night read-and-critique will be starting in about an hour with Mark Clements. I think I’ll read from a page of thorny dialogue in the current book.

In two of today’s sessions the benefits of confusing the reader have come up. I made the point after hearing criticisms of one writers use of lingo in a horse novel that some of the best books have opening lines, paragraphs, and even chapters that confuse the reader until they learn the language of the story. I did not mention, but was thinking specifically of Katherine Dunn’s amazing novel Geek Love. The first time I read the opening chapter it was incomprehensible—until I learned the language of the characters. I kept reading because the confusion was itself a compelling mystery. Of course, it does make it that much harder for the writer, to maintain reader interest long enough for them to grok your story.

Mike Farris said something similar in his nuts-and-bolts session on querying.

Don’t make anything 100% clear until you have to. Let the reader feel smart.

I think that letting the reader—or viewer, in the case of movies—“feel smart” is half of what makes some works great. Flexible interpretations make better stories.

photo 2 for Smart Readers: photo 2 for Let the reader be smart

One of many reasons to hold conferences in San Diego in the autumn.

In response to La Jolla Writers Conference 2012: My last year for a while, because I don’t like going to writers conferences over and over. I’d rather write.

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