21 January 2010

The Importance of Confidence

I get emails from The Highlight's Foundation. They publish Highlights Magazine for children. This post is from their most recent newsletter, an article written by Stephen Roxburgh of namelos, llc.

"The three C's of writing fiction are Creativity, Craft and Confidence. Of the three, confidence is often the hardest to achieve. A writer needs to have confidence in her reader, respecting her intelligence and acumen, trusting that the reader is paying attention."

I like this. Having confidence in your reader. A lot of times, we as writers feel we have to explain everything. I've been guilty of this. During this last round of editing, I noticed that I tend to have my characters over explain things. This is boring and unnecessary. Sure, we need to put enough information in so that the reader isn't completely lost, but we don't need to put so much in they figure out the end in the first ninety pages!

Trust your readers. Put faith in them to figure out where you're going. Give them some of what I like to call "holy crap moments". Anyone who's watched a Shyamalan film knows what those are. You're cruising along, minding your own business, reading when *WHAM!* you're hit between the eyes with an outcome or a revelation you never saw coming. Excellent. We as readers love that. But it's also nice to follow along and whisper, "I know who did it" and have it confirmed a few pages later. You didn't know at the beginning. The author was smart. She let a few clues trickle in here, some more there. Your brain gathered them together and made it's own assumptions. Sometimes you're right, sometimes you're wrong. But you followed along. You didn't have, or need, a character to hold your hand and tell you everything.

Roxburgh goes on to say, "A writer also needs to have confidence in herself, trusting in her own ability to communicate successfully. I see the lack of confidence most in scenes where the writer both 'shows' what's going on and then, lacking confidence that the reader will get it, 'tells' the reader what she is supposed to take from the scene."

The example he gives is when a character tells a joke and then the writer finished it with, "he said, laughing". Ouch. A show of hands for the guilty? Yep, mine's up there.

Of course we need to be confident in our own ability. Not to the point where we just write whatever the heck we want and take no guidance from anyone. A quiet confidence, where we study, we read, we ask and seek. And when the time comes, we put pen to paper and produce the best work we can produce. We edit, we cut, we slice and dice until, through the sweat, tears and blood we know we can do no more. But we have to have a confidence in our readers.

This is something I'm going to be pondering as I continue with my edits. How much am I showing and telling? When would a simple "he said" suffice over expounding on the obvious? I know, I know, something ELSE to look for while editing. "I thought I was done!!!" Yeah, so did I. I'm now on my fourth edit of a trilogy. I was bemoaning that fact a while until I realized, if I'm not 100% sure my manuscript is the best it can be (and I'm not talking about over obsessing to the point of never submitting), why would I want to risk a publishing career on it? Sure, I can write again, I can even submit again. But I'd rather know I send out the best I could and be rejected because it wasn't right for a house or an agent, then send out something that was a flop from the get go.

I want to communicate effectively. I also want to add enough mystery to keep my reader's guessing. Just another fine line we as writer's have to walk. And we thought this job would be easy ;) (that was a joke, in case you were suddenly questioning my sanity...well, questioning it more than usual)

Happy writing,


Blondie said...

Yet another great post Jen..have a great day! kori xoxo

Karen Walker said...

These are such good thoughts, Jen. I never thought about having confidence in my readers. I have enough time having confidence in myself. Thanks. And good luck!

Shannon O'Donnell said...

I love this. Thanks so much for sharing the article and your thoughts. I agree that writers do tend to underestimate readers - especially PB and chapter book writers.

willow said...

Excellent post. I used to subscripe to Highlights when my kids were young. Fun memories.

Elana Johnson said...

I've often thought of having confidence in MYSELF, not in the reader. So thanks for helping me to remember that as well!

Elspeth Antonelli said...

I had exactly this discussion with someone yesterday. I'm trying to not underestimate my future (please, please, please) reader. They'll be able to handle some complex plots, they'll be able to keep who's who straight, etc.

Now I just have to write it well. That's easy. (oh dear...)

Elizabeth Spann Craig/Riley Adams said...

Beautifully put!

And you're so's a thin line. I don't want my readers to get bored with my book or to make the mystery too challenging. It does make it tough!

Mystery Writing is Murder
Mystery Lovers’ Kitchen

coffeelvnmom said...

Great post. I almost felt like it was me talking about editing. Just know that we will get there - and all of this editing will make our books so much better! Love the "Confidence in the reader" line. Great reminder, thank you!

Terresa said...

The other week at SCBWI conference,
Sydney Salter (YA/J author) said , "Your reader is smart. Some salsa is fine, not the whole bottle.”

I thought that was a great analogy, one that will stick with me.

Fab post, girl!

Anastasia said...

I am working on the confidence in myself first, then in the edits I can have confidence in my readers. Its a good point, I am way guilty of assuming people don't get what I'm saying.

Also thanks for all the fabulous comments on my blog, I love to hear from you!

The Blonde Duck said...

I love this. I'd never thought of it before.

Jen Chandler said...

Hey :)
Thanks so much for the kind words. I'm pleased to see this is such a new topic to most of you as it was to me. We're always concentrating on building self confidence. I think I'm going to start also focusing on building reader confidence. If we want intelligent readers, we have to write for intelligent readers :)

Happy Friday,

Mary Aalgaard said...

Confidence, confidence, confidence. I'm hoping that if I say it enough, I'll feel it and live it!

Glynis said...

Interesting post. Confidence in ourselves and confidence in our reader, valuable information. I am hoping that I achieve both at some point in my writing career.
I am gaining confidence in myself, but have never thought about my reader.