Best left unsaid?

One of my beta readers told me that I leave too much unsaid in my book. Too many hints and not enough facts. Inadequate exploration of motivation. Paucity of descriptive nouns. Scarcity of adverbs and adjectives.

The strength of this reader’s opinion rather knocked my confidence and so it was with gratitude that I read this comment from Peter Selgin writing on Jane Friedman’s website:

Whenever we authors state things that are or might be implied, we rob our readers of an interactive moment, of the chance to infer those implications: among the great pleasures offered by good writing.

But as Selgin explains in another post, “never state what you can imply” is not the same as “show, don’t tell”. Sometimes the writer has to tell in order to interpret the action – or simply move the show along.

The crucial thing is that even whilst telling a skilful writer can leave much unsaid – unlabelled, unexplained – because she trusts her reader to understand, even if placing this trust opens up the possibility of misunderstanding.

Telling readers what to think or feel is the job of a propagandist. A storyteller’s main purpose, on the other hand, is to create experiences for the reader, to involve us so deeply, so convincingly, so authentically in those experiences that we feel what characters feel.

“To create experiences for the reader.” Ah, now; that is the challenge – and somehow, with or without adjectives, I failed for this particular reader.


About Hannah

Author of literary historical fiction set in the First World War. Revising my first book, writing the next, seeking representation. Mountaineer, gardener, traveller, off-road runner. Africa, modern history, coffee, roses, films, book and unrealistic romance. NHS midwife in a former life.
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