Are you treating your readers like they’re stupid?
It happens all the time! But many writers don’t even know they’re doing it. It just happens so easily, sneaking into your writing, polluting your beautiful prose.
The little worm I’m referring to is handholding. Avoid at all costs!
What is Handholding?
Handholding is when writers pull their readers through their story with a strong grip. It’s when, instead of letting readers breathe in the world of their story, they drag them through it, pointing out every important pebble and shouting, “There, there, you see it! Right there! Let me explain it to you so you definitely won’t miss it!”
Let’s look at some examples:
The cliff leaned inwards like a jagged tooth, its rocky border as sharp as a knife. It felt imposing.
What? Imposing? Sounds lovely to me!
Avoid overly and blatantly describing important details. Write your descriptions in a purposeful way and your readers will have no trouble catching your meaning.
There was an imposing cliff in the distance.
Never do this! Give your readers some wiggle room, demanding they think and feel a certain way ruins the experience of reading your work. Not to mention that descriptions of this nature are a snooze-fest.
Instead, find ways to show that the cliff is imposing without blatantly saying so.
In Dialog Tags
“I hate you more than anything in the world!” he screamed, angrily.
Unless your character has serious psychological issues, it’s going to be pretty damn obvious that he’s angry, even without the “screamed,” even without the “angrily,” and (shockingly) even without the exclamation point.
“Owe,” he said in pain.
Because people usually say “owe” just for fun?
“I love you,” he said, lovingly.
Okay, this last one’s kind of a joke, but seriously: your readers are not stupid. They can understand your characters’ emotions without blatant cues, and if they can’t, you need to learn how to write more evocative descriptions.
In Character’s Emotions
Jasper gasped, shocked.
Don’t you think your readers know what a gasp is? Of course they do! So cut out “shocked” and keep it simple.
Big, sorrowful tears ran down Emily’s depressed face.
Emily’s depressed? Her tears are sorrowful? I would never have guessed!
When in doubt, keep it simple. Let your audience breathe, don’t drag them through your novel with brutal force. The best novels are those that require the audience to participate and interpret.
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2 thoughts on “Writers, Are You Treating Your Readers Like They’re Stupid?”
I have a habit of making my characters sign in relief… They also tend to take in a huge breath before doing something in every second chapter!
I wish they were sometimes; I’m tired of reading way too many one or tow-liners, sermons disguised as stories, ego photos, shopping boasts, complaints about why they aren’t writing, and boasts about being writers while writing nothing. takes a while to find the writers, having to sieve through the pile of nonsense that belongs on twitter and facebook. Do get lucky sometimes though, real lucky. Cheers.