Reading Stories not Minds by Warren Bull
It was perfectly clear. To me, at least. After all the years of writing books, stories, essays,
memoirs, and lyrics I still had to be clued in. Even though I know the life story of my
characters, readers do not.
My latest short story was clear to my beta reader — except for who the characters were, what the setting was, and when the events took place. On the other hand, I knew how much change was in the characters’ purses and pockets. I knew the protagonist had a hole in his left sock and that he had determined he needed to buy a new pair, but he would get caught up in paperwork and leave the office too late to get the chore done that evening.
The socks were not an integral part of the story. They would never appear, but that’s not the point. As the author, my characters tell me all sorts of things my readers don’t need to know, but my beloved readers would like to know who, where, and when. I have to admit that I don’t like to get too specific about when. In the story, I had to ditch the cell phone, the bread maker, and a popular saying because they did not yet exist in the time period the story took place in.
Readers object to six-shooters that fire a dozen rounds at a clip. They don’t like protagonists who, in the final chapter display martial arts mastery without any backstory to explain it. My fifth-grade math teacher routinely intoned, “Show your work.” Boy howdy, was she right.