Writing Observation: Trusting the Reader
I finished Stephen King’s Insomnia the other night—one of the last handful or so of King’s books I hadn’t yet tackled—and an important point struck me. People talk about the reasons for King’s success… his characters, his monsters in everyday America, making a pact with a demon muse of some fashion. At least two of those points go a long cementing him as a great writer, but there’s more to it.
King trusts the reader.
Many of his books are long, a handful are enormous. Insomnia came in at 787 pages in trade hardcover without much paper wasted. In writing a long book, it seems, many authors have the irritating tendency to assume short memories or plain stupidity of their readership.
The writer pens a pivotal plot point, it’s bold and memorable, it creates scores of plausible hinges. Great job you fantastic writer you! A shadow looms and the writer is three weeks later in penning the manuscript and the future reader is five chapters later, perhaps only an hour later; a twist in plot, a broken heart, an angry fist that needs explanation... the writer, possibly reminding herself/himself/themselves what this new revelation that has occurred means and how it touches on a foreshadow, reiterates for the reader.
This is excusable if it’s scrubbed away before the manuscript reaches print, because simply, the reader doesn't need it. But it isn’t scrubbed, the writer feels the need to parade this fantastic twist of foreshadow once it’s come to light, just to be sure the reader catches and sees how damned smart the writer is.
What Insomnia reminded me exactly, is that this isn’t just important, it’s wildly important. Trust should be expected so wholly that most times it never comes to mind. Now, I’m not saying touching back in a limited or in a way new to a story's plot points is bad, those kinds of things are necessary at times, especially in stories rolling around a mystery. What I am saying, is that there is a way to do it correctly, and it’s really simple.
Add something new or don't go in reverse, ever.
In a story, if reminding doesn’t add something new, doesn’t efficiently hammer home an emotion (this is a limited time only kind of option), or shine a light from an angle red herring-ed away five clues ago, the writer needs to cut this bit out. If the writer has written and edited a manuscript into a tight story, a reader should never be told what he/she/they already knows.
Stephen King has some strange redundancies that can grate from time to time (in Insomnia he rolled out the familiar …he couldn’t be sure how he knew, but he did know he had the power… five or six times), but that's a whole different conversation. It's not only King that understands this, there are many-many-many, but King always (to my recollection) trusts the reader enough to serve up the your food without stopping the table every ten minutes to remind you what you’re eating.
And that's how it should be.