Your readers are smart

This week is the final week of the Seven Wonders edit. A week today, no matter what, this book is going out to my beta-readers.

One of the challenges of this edit, in contrast to Empire State, is that the first third of the novel has two concurrent timelines running – the present, and a series of flashbacks which then catch up with the main narrative. Add to that the fact that because we’re dealing with superheroes, a lot of the characters have more than one identity, as you can imagine it has required quite a fine-toothed comb to make sure everything slots right into place and makes sense.

I’m also at the stage where it’s hard to tell whether something is good or bad, or makes sense or not – and this is why it goes to beta next week. I’m too close to the text, and while I’m enjoying the book as I read it back, I need some second, third, fourth, fifth and sixth opinons.

But… something occured to me today. Readers are smart. Readers can figure things out. Readers don’t need to be told everything, because they can either a] work something out that suits them, if it’s not implicit in the book, or b] sit back and enjoy a little enigma here and there.

I realised this as I’m coming to the end of The Five by Robert McCammon. This is a brilliant book, but also one that (as I have mentioned before) is very loose with structure. Character POV roves around between paragraphs. Flashbacks, timeline shifts and dreams take place within the ‘present’ timeline without any section breaks.

But it all makes sense. As a reader, I figured it out for myself. And the book isn’t experimental or difficult or anything like that – on the contrary, it’s a cracking horror/thriller with more than a little dash of Stephen King thrown in – but the author trusts his readers to do some work.

I’ll let my betas decide whether I’ve managed to pull off the tricky first third of Seven Wonders. But, y’know, for all my back-and-forth tweaks of the shifting timelines, perhaps I don’t need to do it all for them. That’s not to say I’m throwing my hands up in the air with a cry of “ZOMG, editing is hard” and will sit around for the next week drinking juice in the sun. Far from it – I’m still making tweaks and adjustments on every page.

But, your readers are smart. Let them do some work, and when they get it, they’ll thank you for that little bit of trust.

  • Anne Lyle

    I totally agree – I hate it when every last fact is spoon-fed to me or, worse still, mentioned several times just in case I wasn’t paying attention the first time. It’s a fine balance, though, and as you say it needs beta-readers to help you determine if you’ve succeeded or not. Same with pacing – after a gazillion revision passes, I no longer have any clear sense of where the surprises and excitement lie. Good beta-readers are a godsend!