Stop Assuming that I Know…

Stop Assuming that I Know…

This is a pet peeve of mine, and I see it far too often. It kills the experience of reading your book for me. What I’m talking about is an assumption, which is fine when used correctly. The assumption is describing facts or situations that the reader doesn’t have first-hand knowledge of (because you haven’t told them yet). Things like a character’s history, or their history with another character, or something that happened between them, etc.…

When you expose these things in your work, you have to explain them; you can’t leave your reader wondering what happened (for long), or how that piece of information fits into the whole. It’s fine to introduce a concept, or memory, or whatever, if you describe the context very shortly afterward, and how it fits into the story. Don’t leave me hanging, wondering what Doris did that night, years ago, that made all her friends shy away from her (unless you’re using it as a plot device to explain why they all hate her, and even then, don’t drag it out). And definitely don’t drop a bit of world-building knowledge without an explanation: this is your world, how am I supposed to know what a Grackle is? Especially if you’re not going to tell me for four more pages…

I don’t mind suspense, but knowing the Grackle killed all three of the team sent to intercept it leaves me clueless about what a Grackle is until you tell me in the next chapter. How can I visualize a Grackle In my head, when you haven’t told me what it looks like; or what it’s capable of? The same thing is true for terms or words that are unique (i.e., you made them up). You can’t expect a reader to understand the picture in your mind. That’s why we write; to explain those pictures. Make sure you’re clear about it.

The best way to handle these expositions is gradually, within the story, explaining yourself. Don’t leave five unanswered questions hanging, intending to answer them later.