Are You Cheating Your Reader?

Sally couldn’t wait to tell her best friend, Rhea, that Tommy had finally asked her to the Junior-Senior Prom. The dance was only three days away, and she’d need Rhea to help her shop for a killer outfit to make sure Saturday’s date wouldn’t be the last between Sally and Tommy. She’d waited and hoped for this for so long, and it was finally true!

She rushed down the crowded hall to her locker, which was next to Rhea’s. They’d exchanged many quick secrets in the moments between classes while they switched out one set of books for another. The date with Tommy was one secret Rhea wouldn’t have to keep for long. Sally couldn’t wait for Paula to learn she’d lost in the race for Tommy’s attention. A delicious thrill rushed through her at the thought of the double victory.

As she passed dreamy Mr. Holton’s classroom, she glanced through the tiny rectangle window in the door, hoping to catch a glimpse of him–and stopped in her tracks. The hallway noise faded, and Sally barely noticed getting bumped by students passing her. Behind the closed door to Mr. Holton’s darkened room, Tommy held Rhea in his lap as they engaged in a wet, sloppy kiss.

Chapter Two

Sally whistled as she walked to school the next day. On the way, she stopped by the Community Church. Would the doors be open at this time of day? She ran up the steps to find out–they were! Walking softly through the silent sanctuary, she came to a midway point and sat on the padded pew. Dear Lord, Please forgive Tommy and Rhea for what they were doing yesterday. I’m sure they didn’t mean to hurt me. 

Feeling better, she left the sanctuary and rushed to school. Today she’d discover how well she’d done on her math test!

Feel cheated? I certainly did when I read something along this vein recently. Instead of finding it at the beginning of the novel, I found it near the end, which tells me the author was rushing to finish the manuscript and she didn’t want to take the time to explore Sally’s emotions after being betrayed–or she was afraid to explore them. Whatever her excuse, she cheated.

Usually the example of an author’s failure to follow through for their readers isn’t quite this blatant. Still, for whatever reason, such scenes occur, and my advice to the writer is simple: Don’t do that!

It’s a dirty trick, let me tell you. The author piqued my interest, so of course I continued reading, which is what any author would want. But when the book ended and the only other reference I found to the two times she dangled something meaty over me was a catch-all that eliminated both problems with a wave of her hand, I was left unsatisfied–which isn’t what the author wants. Such is the stuff that sparks bad reviews and discourages a first-time reader from reading your second book.

Whenever you introduce something new into your novel, follow it through to its logical conclusion. You don’t have to tie it up in a pretty little bow, but you can’t leave it dangling, either. Explore the emotions and present the actions required to settle the issue, or cut the entire scene as dead weight and move on.

About Linda W. Yezak

Author/Freelance Editor/Speaker (writing and editing topics).
This entry was posted in Writing, Writing Tips. Bookmark the permalink.

13 Responses to Are You Cheating Your Reader?

  1. I so agree. Sally’s reaction was real. No one would just brush off such and incident, especially a teenaged girl. She would agonizie over it forever! And everyone around her would suffer too, unless she was vying for sainthood!

    Great point, Linda.

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  2. Topline Tack says:

    As a reader, we all want believably and honesty – which is why I always say I hate “love at first sight”, too – if the people fall in love, it should be obvious why they fell in love, otherwise it looks superficial – I think love might be the hardest emotion to write because of it.

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  3. Perfect explanation of show-don’t-tell! Thanks, Linda.

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    • Linda Yezak says:

      The author of the manuscript didn’t even bother to “tell” us how her character felt about the emotional events she had to face. That would’ve been preferable to whisking the problems away with a single paragraph!

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  4. It’s easy for authors to get bored or burned out at the end of a novel and rip off a half-baked explanation for something without really thinking about the consequences. Thanks for the reminder!

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  5. joannesher says:

    TOTALLY true. Great post – and reminder – Linda. Thanks!

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  6. Traci B says:

    Yes, Linda. I definitely felt cheated. The story should have gone an entirely different direction. This felt plastic.

    Strong emotions make us uncomfortable, especially if they come from our own lives. Yet those strong emotions are what makes for good reading.

    At the same time, we have to be careful with negative feelings. In my second Atherton novel (currently in progress), the main character is struggling with the aftereffects of a major trauma that occurs near the end of the first novel (Chantal’s Call, now available in e-book format). What she went through was horrible and deserves to be acknowledged as such, but she was starting to sound a bit whiny to me. I’m going to have to revisit those scenes. If I’m getting annoyed, how much more so will my readers be?

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    • Linda Yezak says:

      I wish you all the best with your character, Traci. I’ve had to rip out annoying scenes, too.

      Sometimes if you underplay it, the character won’t seem quite so whiny.

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      • Traci B says:

        Thanks, Linda. That’s what I’m thinking too. Either that, or her big sister’s going to have a heart-to-heart with her at some point. 🙂

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