Furry Writers' Guild Forum

Trusting your readers

I’m aware it’s often considered a sin to consider the potential audience when you’re writing something, but I have a question that pertains to that.

As a touch of background, I’ve spent some good chunk of time experimenting with leaving things out. I like how in movies, for example, a director can shoot whole scenes without dialogue, and you can get the whole story just from facial expressions and body language. I’m also interested in things like the Kuleshov Effect, which as I understand it is how when two shots in a film are viewed back to back, the visual connection automatically implies a thematic connection in the audience’s brain.

I feel like, even though they’re different kinds of media, we might be able to exploit a lot of the same techniques in our fiction writing in some way, and I find it amusing to play around with that by cutting all of the asides and explanations and leaving in only concrete actions and dialogue. And then going even further and cutting ANYTHING that might seem moderately superfluous, up to the point where half of the plot is driven by implications alone.

But I’ve also found that the latter level is overreaching. At that stage my writing just becomes very vague and sketchy and hard to interpret. (Which is another way of saying it becomes bad.) I’m working out finding a middle ground that I’m comfortable with.

So my question is, how much do you guys typically trust your readers to pick up on implications? And if the answer is ‘a lot’, how do you do it?


I’ve heard just the opposite when it comes to writing for an audience. You shouldn’t pander to an audience, but keeping your audience in mind can help you focus on what’s important and what isn’t.

There is nothing wrong with telling a story by way of implication, but there must be enough of a story present for the audience to extrapolate. Otherwise it’s getting into artsy territory, and you had better aim for readers who are looking for technique over narrative. There are movies that go to such extremes with technique, too.

As for how much is too much or too little, I don’t think anyone can say. This is something you probably will figure out with practice and feedback.

It also helps to have a story in mind that can be told in such a way. I imagine there must be a particular kind of story that would do well in this technique, but I can’t think of it.

I know a story that did something like what you described, called “Girl” by Jamaica Kincaid where the whole story is nothing but dialogue, yet still manages to use all the traditional elements of fiction (I wrote a whole essay on it for school).

I think it all depends on what kind of story you’re going for, and what you’re trying to say with it. A story with a lot of ambiguity and interpretive elements can be fun to parse if you’re in that kind of mood and if the elements are interesting onto themselves. Not everyone is going to be into that, and there’s the danger that some readers might find you either pretentious or misinterpret you’re style as clumsy writing.

It can be hard to know what a potential reader might think of your work, especially if you’re intentionally leaving things up to interpretation, so I’d suggest getting other people to read your work and ask them specific questions about their reactions. What did they think of this narrative choice? Did this part make them think, or were they just confused? Did they notice any symbols or themes in the work? Ect.

So I’ve read your two responses and thought this over for a while, and I think I’ve figured out a bit more what I actually mean to do with this type of narrative. Maybe I could call it something like ‘showing via telling’, if I wanted to use that old writing trope. The main thing, I think, is that I’m not so much into stories that dictate to me exactly how I should be feeling, right? I used to write like that a lot, where I would do everything from the third person and have characters monologue internally all the time and make snarky comments about other characters or the events taking place, but anymore I feel like, well, people are smart and they can make up their own minds about the situations being dictated without help from such an internal monologue. And also I wonder if most people don’t prefer to make up their own minds as well, especially once you want to start delving into touchy subjects as themes.

So now I try to go for more or less dispassionate narrators, and just keep strictly to describing what happens, who says what, and what actions people take. But I realize now that this doesn’t necessitate a lack of clarity. That’s what I was screwing up before, was dictating only what was happening during the story and leaving out all of the context that’s needed in order to understand why any of it was important. Seems obvious in retrospect, but you know.

Anyway, thanks for the feedback.

I’ve never explicitly considered my audience and my writing technique in the manner you’ve described, but I will elaborate on my writing style because I think it at least partially shed’s light on your question.

My book, The Wayward Astronomer (http://amzn.to/2EDYFfy), was written in entirely 3rd person limited perspective, which off the bat helps “focus the camera” a bit on a narrower set of information because you don’t have these scenes jumping back and forth between this good guy, this bad guy, showing all the plot machinations simultaneously. You’re forced to reveal information through the experiences of a single character, which is a great way to sharpen your blade and get rid of a little bit of clutter.

Secondly, I tend to be a very character focused writer with an emphasis on interactions and conversations. Internal musing is fun sometimes, but I think that having characters reveal their feelings and thoughts through interaction tends to again, get rid of a little bit of clutter and focus the flow of events. I’ve never tried to explicitly go minimalist to the extent you’ve originally described, but I do agree that sometimes “less is more”. I don’t try to dictate how a reader should feel, and indeed, opinions vary greatly over some of the choices certain characters make, but when you strip away the fluff and leave only the core powerful content, the effect is amplified.

This is just my opinion of course, but the good news is a number of my readers have commented on the pacing and flow of events saying it felt very well executed, and I think a lot of that comes down to the choices I made with how to tell the story I just described. I think your new style moving forward should serve you well, especially if your characters actions and personality draw your readers to where they’re emotionally invested and focused on what they do, what they say, and how that affects things.

I do place a lot of trust in my readers simply because I find it insulting to have a writer spoon-feed me their intent, and I don’t want my readers to get that same feeling from me. I do sometimes wonder if I’m being too subtle, but I’m not writing for people who refuse to make the effort to read between the lines.

I do think this here is the core of my concern with this issue. When you want to insert some kind of commentary about some social issue, for example, or a hot-button topic, I feel like the best way to do that is to just tell the story, show what happens, and leave the interpretation up to the reader. Anything more than that and you’re preaching, and then you open yourself instantly to dissection and attack, because in real life everything has fuzzy edges. I used to think ambiguity like that was lazy, but now I understand more that this is (or rather should be) the purpose of it.

There’s also something to do be said for expecting a bit of focus on the reader’s part, but I do worry a bit about that when sending things out for publication. People digging through their slush piles don’t tend to read everything carefully.