Thursday, June 18, 2009

Readers are smart

As a YA fantasy writer, I read lots of unpublished YA fantasy. I love it. I love reading things before they are published. I also read a lot of published fantasy. One thing I've noticed, in an unpublished book I read recently (don't worry, it's no one who reads this blog) and in a published work I read recently is that in both cases each author felt the need to explain things about their world before they were relevant to the story or made sense. The only thing it did was left me confused and I didn't remember half of what was said because I was still trying to ground myself in the story. I think this can apply to non-fantasy works too, but this is the advice I gave the unpublished writer that sometimes I need to remember myself as well.

"Trust in your world and trust that I will learn about your world as things come to pass. Don’t feel like you have to tell me every single thing about it. Part of the fun of being introduced to a new world is the ownership I (the reader) feel in it as I “discover” things about it on my own. So, pretend as though everything in your world is completely normal then you will resist the urge to explain everything."

Same applies to characters. Don’t tell me who they are, just let them be who they are. It will be obvious that they are stubborn or flirty or quick witted by how they act.

I know you’ve heard it all before, but sometimes hearing it a different way is helpful.


  1. Great advice! I completely agree. So, what are some of your favorite YA fantasy?

  2. I agree—putting in too many details without the meaning/context readily apparent is a good way to make readers forget them or skip them altogether.

    On the other hand, though, you have to be careful about introducing such elements later: depending on what it is and how it's done, it can stop the action at an important point for an info dump, or undercut the impact of a revelation of an element.

    If those elements are really important, you have to find a way to work them in before the absolutely crucial moment where they make all the difference—and make working them in totally natural so that they make sense and have some impact where they are, too.

  3. OOH! I love this post Kasie! Thanks! And you're so right. We need to just go with the flow and add things as they naturally appear. If we have to we can always go back and add a sentence here or there to help smooth things over, but that's what makes editing so awesome!

  4. Kasie-it's so funny that you have this post right now. It's a concept that I've been catching on to more and more lately. I am reading a YA fantasy and I noticed that the writer only gives little tastes of the hidden world. It leaves you guessing and wanting more. So I have been practicing holding back while writing my WIP! The thing I keep telling myself is, "The readers aren't stupid!!"

  5. What a great reminder. It is true that my favorite books are the ones that make me feel clever, involved and smart along the way.

  6. Great advice. I think sometimes as a writer, you can get so excited about the small details that you know about your world or character so you want to share everything you know, but you need to remember to stick to what applies, because the reader will follow what it happening without being walked through everything step by step.

  7. Actually, that is one thing I struggle with with sequels. I know that the author has to kind of sum up what's been going on, in a subtle, unobtrusive kind of way, but I hate reading a summary of it all. I like to discover as I read as well. And if you are going to read the sequel but not the prequel, then you deserve not to know what happened in the first book.

    P.S. I am totally watching Mary Poppins with my son right now-the part where she is singing about feeding the birds to the kids as they sleep. Ha HA.

  8. Great post. I'm writing a YA fantasy novel and this is a good reminder to re-read what I've written and make sure I'm not to explainy about setting, characters, etc.

  9. Couldn't agree more. I believe this could apply to writing relationships as well, romantic or otherwise.
    I've read too many books where I feel *forced* to understand and/or believe a connection. Readers will pick up on anything not natural, authentic.

    When the world/characters/plots, etc. are organic, there's no need to explain. Trust the reader.
    Thanks for this!

  10. I love this post, and all the comments as well! I write YA fantasy, and love reading it even more! I agree about some authors putting too much explanation into their world at the beginning. It makes me want to go back and read my WIP to see if I have done just that! Great post!:)

  11. Very, very true. Thanks for the reminder :) Great post!

  12. Kristy, I love Twilight (of course), love Harry Potter. Those are givens though. I love Sisterhood of the Traveling Pants series (more urban legend than fantasy). Right now I'm reading Green Rider--pretty good so far. Just finished Graceling--the first half was better than the second. On my "to read" list is Silver Phoenix and Hunger Games.

    Jordan, very true, you don't want to interrupt action for world building.

    Jenni, I swear you've almost talked me into liking this whole editing thing. How dare you, woman. :)

    Nikki, yes, I have to hold myself back as well. My thing is when something important happens that I want the reader to remember I have to stop myself from reiterating it several times.

    Tess, yes, I love to feel clever and like I figured things out even though the author has given me all the clues along the way.

    Amber, I completely agree. There are things that I put in sometimes that I think are so interesting that my readers say, 'that section was really boring, is it necessary?' And I'm like 'What?? Boring. But that's when you learn that my MC has a little freckle by her eye. Don't you want to know that?' LOL

    Jessie, I completely agree, I'm like, read the first book, people, and stop weighing down my second book. And Jessie, please don't poison your son's mind with Mary Poppins. Didn't I warn you what could happen? LOL

    Terresa, Yay, a YA fantasy writer. I'm so excited for all the future books that are coming to this genre. My reading life is going to be so awesome in the future.

    Krisy, Oh my gosh, yes, no need to force emotions. You are soooo right.

    Chantele, Wahoo, YA fantasy rocks! (sorry, I'm a little biased) :)

    I think Jenn did a post about the ratio of world building to plot in a fantasy. Correct me if I'm wrong, Jenn, but did you say 20% world building to 80% plot? Something like that. In other words, the world is the background, the plot is what's keeping people reading. :) I've read a few where the ratio was off.

  13. Kasie - yep, 80/20 is correct. The where doesn't matter if the reader doesn't care about the who or the why. :)

  14. Sorry, I meant Kristy, not Krisy. :)



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