Your Readers Aren’t Bumblefucks: How to Tell They’re Smart & Treat Them That Way

I get it. It’s tough to give readers the benefit of the doubt when you’re talking about complicated subjects like snow, seafood, and shoes. As writers, we all fight a powerful inner force that drives us to explain things well beyond the point of clarity—often to the point of “Hey, in case you’re a dumbass, let me tell you what water is.”

Your readers will get tired of that faster than yesterday’s playlist.

Here’s a quick sample of what’s sometimes put in front of readers…and what they really think when we talk down to them:

Writer: Snow is white and cold.

Reader: No shit. There better be an inescapable blizzard trapping an entire town within the terrorizing clutches of an abominable snowman before you tell me more about this white, cold snow.

Writer: Seafood comes from the ocean…and often tastes (gasp!) “fishy.”

Reader: Unless you just pulled a megalodon from the sea, I don’t need the genealogy of the dinner you’re describing. However, if some prehistoric badassery is going down, then by all means, continue the explanation.

Writer: Shoes are utilized to protect the feet and often worn when leaving the home.

Reader: I’d really want to read more of this…IF the protagonist were running through a volcanic lava flow while wearing the latest lava-repellant footwear. However, I don’t need to be reminded every time Karen needs to slip on her Birks before leaving the house. Move on. We’re all well-versed in the role shoes play in our lives.

Remember

Cut the filler. Cut the fluff. Get to the good stuff.

We don’t do it on purpose. But every now and then, we write one of those sentences that makes it seem like our readers have the mental acuity of a box of rocks. Take a look at the last couple things you wrote. Is there anything you can omit (either because the reader likely already has that knowledge OR because the reader would love the opportunity to build that picture up in their own mind)?

PRO TIP: Never make your readers feel like they don’t know their ass from a hole in the ground. If you’re planning on a long-term career as a writer, this is BAD for business.

Why Focus on Readers?

When you empower your readers, you create excited, confident readers. You produce readers of more books! Remember every time you had a great book-reading experience as a kid or young adult? What did you do? You went and found another book. As writers, that’s all we can hope for: readers who want to READ MORE BOOKS.

Your Readers Are Worldly, Intelligent & Insightful

Readers have life experience, and you can assume that if they’ve picked up your book, they have interest in the topics you’ve tackled. (That means they probably have at least a little bit of subject matter knowledge, and they’re engaged in your content. Bonus!)

Your Readers Wear Pants

And they drive cars. And they know that water comes out of water fountains. (See? Smart!)

This is momentous insight for writers, because it means you don’t have to tell readers what pants feel like or how they work! You also are not obligated to tell them that cars have steering wheels and four tires; nor do you need to tell them water comes out of fountains. Unless something utterly STRANGE and UNEXPECTED is happening with the aforementioned objects, your readers can paint those pictures all on their own. (And they LOVE doing that. It’s part of THEIR creative process.)

Why Readers Read

Readers are a huge part of your creative process. They are the recipients of your stories, and they turn the words you’ve written into entire worlds in their minds. The best writers, the writers we all return to, are those who create just enough story to intrigue us, draw us in, and challenge us to fill in the blanks. They paint the picture—just not the ENTIRE picture.

Challenge: Read your latest writing and look for signs that you’re accusing your readers of bumblefuckery. Avoid this at all costs, because nobody wants to be known as the reader who needed to be told that “the rain fell down.” (Well I damned well hope so. Tell ‘em something they didn’t know.)

Read the following encouraging signs to remind you that your readers are total BRAINIACS who just want to read some great writing. So let loose, sling some creativity, and stop second-guessing yourself about what they can handle.

5 Pretty Obvious Giveaways That Your Readers Are Smart

  • They are holding a book. And if they aren’t currently holding a book, they’re likely shopping for a book, telling another person about the book they just read, or reading book reviews online to decide which book to purchase next (probably while listening to an audio book).
  • They are alive. Meaning, they have experienced life things. If your reader has ever been through a breakup, they know it causes sadness, so get more creative than that when describing a similar situation in your writing. They know dogs bark, but a snarler evokes a completely different feeling. Small changes in your writing infuse more emotion AND give readers credit for being able to fill in some of the blanks.
  • They speak your language. This is fan-freakin’-tabulous news, because it means you don’t need to fluff up your writing with pretentious words readers don’t understand. They talk just like you do, so wa-bam! You can just start typing. Unless you’re completing a post-grad thesis, uptight writing will only make you seem stuffy and in need of a fiber supplement. Plus, readers will wonder why you’re making their brains hurt.
  • They can imagine. If you tell readers about the “scraggly, bony-fingered witch who mumbles to herself each time a well-dressed businessman passes by,” you’ll have 500 readers who come up with 500 different mental images of that witch. And that is AMAZING! Do more of that! Encourage your readers to be smart and creative and whimsical. This is what brings joy to reading…and therefore, potentially an inkling of job security to the lowly writers of the world.
  • They contribute. Yep, that’s right. Think you’re the only one contributing to your writing? Think again. You are setting up a platform that invites readers to enter, absorb, and then create worlds of their own—all by reading what you’ve written. You are dancing with the reader, and there is a fine balance between telling them enough and telling them too much.

Readers are brainy and creative. They are learners, and they want to be part of the adventures in the books they read. As a writer, it’s your job to bring the story into focus. Paint just enough of a picture to connect almost all the dots; and then let readers fill in some of the blanks to envision specifics. Part of the beauty of creativity lies in the give and take between writer and reader.

Now, get out there and write a literary masterpiece. Go…scoot! Before I am forced to tell you that grass is green.

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