Wordy Wednesday: Trust the Reader

This week has been busy. Thursday night I went to an LGBTQ YA panel at McNally Jackson, which was definitely one of the highlights of my summer. I got to see Lindsay Ribar (The Fourth Wish) and Michael Barakiva (One Man Guy), meet Becky Albertalli (Simon vs. the Homo Sapiens Agenda), Adam Silvera (More Happy than Not), and Dahlia Adler (Under the Lights)–and also hang out with some kind of cool people.

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I mean Camryn, Amy, and Mark are all insanely cool. But John lowers the group average significantly. 

It was so great to get to see Amy again, and meet the others in person for the first time. It’s always so weird and awesome meeting internet people.

Friday I attended the ticker tape parade along the Canyon of Heroes for the US women’s soccer team, in honor of winning the World Cup(!!), followed by the ceremony at City Hall. (Of course I watched that part on the jumbotron from across the street, but still. Super cool.)

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Saturday I finally caught my first Broadway show of my two months in NYC: a matinee of Hedwig and the Angry Inch with Darren Criss. Afterward I read in Central Park for the rest of the evening. (I like it here.)

IMG_9358Aaand now I’m back at work for the week (although I still found time to check out the Strand yesterday and start reading Go Set a Watchman, so yay).

ANYWAY. Now that I’ve gushed endlessly about my week: This week’s Wordy Wednesday is a writing process post.

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Between internships and helping friends, I’ve critiqued a good number of stories at this point. Probably somewhere between twenty or thirty full novels, along with who knows how many novel openings, random scenes, and short stories. And through all of these, one of the things that I’ve noticed is that writers generally have a tendency to over-explain things to the reader.

I’ve talked before about trusting the reader, but always as more of a smaller part of a larger picture. But this is important, so I figured it was time it got its own post.

If you’re a writer, chances are you’re also a reader. And if you like to read, chances are you’re a pretty awesome person. And if you’re a pretty awesome person, chances are you’re also, you know, not unintelligent.

And what does all of this together mean?

Chances are, you’re trustworthy.

I don’t mean this in, like, the traditional “you can trust that there human with your innocent, adorable, very kidnappable children” kind of trustworthy (although, chances are, readers are also not the type of people who would run around offering candy to random five-year-olds, because hello, why do that when it would cut into your reading time). But I do mean that readers are trustworthy in the way that we don’t need absolutely everything explained to us in explicit detail.

This is often easier to figure out from a macro perspective than a micro one. You don’t have to go through the step by step process of your protagonist getting ready for the day for us to understand that things have happened between her waking up and leaving for school, right? That’s common sense.

Despite this, a lot of the writers for whom I’ve critiqued–especially those who’ve given me the privilege of reading their earlier drafts–haven’t expanded this idea to the micro level in their writing. The line-by-line level.

The reader doesn’t need the author to explain that “he fell down.” Down is the traditional direction of motion when you fall, so the word “fell” inherently implies a movement downward. (If “he fell up,” it’s a different story, because it no longer follows the traditional meaning of the word.)

Similarly, we don’t need to know that a character “screamed in horror” if she’s just spotted herself in the mirror for the first time after a bad makeover, or that someone “wrinkled his nose at the smell” while taking out the trash. The scene dictates these things already for us.

Descriptions like these bog down writing, because they’re redundant. The reader doesn’t gain anything from them, so instead they work against the writing. Make the scene run slower; make it feel less interesting; make it easier for the reader to get distracted. (These words are basically empty calories that don’t even do you the service of tasting good.) (Like those crappy potato chips you eat so you won’t look pathetic at a party where you don’t know anyone.)

Of all the issues writers can run into, I think this is one of the hardest ones to fix. Not because it’s an inherently difficult issue to pinpoint (see examples above), but because it’s easy to second guess yourself.

The manuscript I was revising the past year was neck deep in redundancies like these and I thought that because I had learned how to recognize them, I’d be able to get rid of them SUPER EASILY. But then I started wondering, “Will the reader actually get what I’m saying if I don’t point that out, though?” and “What if it’s not obvious enough?” and “What if the sentence is confusing without this?”

It’s easy to be afraid of messing up. When you over-explain things, you know you’re in the clear. No matter what, the reader will get what you’re saying. But you also run the risk of losing the reader to boredom, or annoying the reader, or any number of things.

So, I took a chance and cut all my little “explaining” descriptions. Sent the MS to my critique partners.

And while occasionally someone had a question about what I meant by something, or wanted more of an explanation behind an action, generally they didn’t miss those redundant explanations. At all.

Readers want your writing to make them feel smart. You know this–you’re a reader. So make them feel smart by treating them like they’re smart. (Spoiler: they are.)

Let us fill in the blanks. Allude to things. Tell us steps A and C and let us figure out step B. Be careful not to lay too many hints to what’s going to happen next, because chances are we’ve already figured it out.

Trusting the reader is key. It allows the reader the chance to find a plot twist surprising; to flip through your pages at a hundred miles an hour, because the writing flies by; to fall in love with your characters and world and you.

Books are about trust. By picking up a book, readers take a risk. They choose to trust an author.

Trust them back.

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Thanks for reading!

~Julia

Story Time: BEA/BookCon 2015! (Part 2/3)

Here we go! Part II of our crazy bookish weekend.

(A reminder that I’m splitting the recap of BEA/BookCon 2015 into three parts, corresponding with the days of the events we attended. You can read Part I–about Friday of BEA–here.) (Also a reminder that all of these posts are going to be long enough to make your brain bleed, so read at your own risk.)

BookCon 2015 expanded from last year’s event by spanning both Saturday and Sunday. They also expanded by selling more than twice as many tickets as last year, so EIGHTEEN. THOUSAND. PEOPLE. came to BookCon this year.

Take a minute to wrap your mind around that: Eighteen thousand people. Came to an event. About books. (Excuse me while I go into heart palpitations of joy.)

I was wary of attending BookCon this year, because I honestly had a, well, not great experience at it in 2014. (“Not great” might be sugarcoating it too much, actually. It was terrible.) However, there was a glimmer of potential in 2014’s Land of Poorly Organized Chaos, so I was willing to give it a second shot this year. (But with a VIP ticket this time.)

Before I go on, I want to preface this all by saying that I had an amazing time at BookCon this year. It so, so blew my expectations out of the water and I can’t wait to go again (no VIP ticket necessary).

However, the beginning of BookCon on Saturday was arguably worse than last year.

The BookCon website boasted that VIP attendees would have an exclusive, separate line to get into the show in the morning. So, with this in mind, we decided to sleep in a bit after the long day at BEA and didn’t leave our hotel until about an hour before the show floor was supposed to open.

Like Friday, we grabbed our empty suitcase and headed to the shuttle stop nearest our hotel. Then we waited.

And waited.

And waited.

And, you guessed it: The shuttle never showed up.

Last year, BEA was still going on during BookCon, so we’d been able to take the shuttle to and from BookCon. For some reason, we’d just assumed the shuttle would still be running for BookCon this year.

After about fifteen minutes of waiting at the stop, we realized no such luck.

Which meant we had to walk to the Javits Center.

Not a huge deal. Oh well. We grabbed some quick breakfast sandwiches at a Dunkin’ Donuts we passed and finished the mile+ long trek in not too much time. It shouldn’t have been a problem.

Except, of course, that it turns out that the wording on the BookCon website was misleading and there actually wasn’t a separate line for VIP ticket holders to get into the show. Only to get into the show floor. Which meant when we arrived at Javits, after having several different harried security people tell us to go different places to get into the building, we finally found ourselves, once again, over a mile away–this time at the end of the general line to enter the Javits Center.

I’ll repeat that: Over. A mile. Away.

People had been lining up since 4:00 AM to get in. Again, eighteen thousand people attended BookCon and most of them were there on Saturday.

It was hot. It was humid. And after paying so much extra for the VIP tickets, my mom and I were pissed.

It’s not that I felt like we deserved special treatment or anything, believe me. It was that BookCon had told us something would be there, then it wasn’t.

At one point, when we finally got close to the doors, a few women tried cutting into line a little ways behind me and I turned around and full out yelled at them. (You should know: I’m not a confrontational person. I tried slapping a friend once for a rude remark–he’d asked me to as a means of getting him to stop making them–and I ended up just gently patting his cheek because I cannot physically hurt people.)

When we did finally get into the Javits Center, VIP attendees were supposed to get a special BookCon tote bag full of books, but none of the staff members near the entrance knew anything about them. Later we found out that they’d ended up giving a bunch of them away to random non-VIP attendees because the staff didn’t understand the VIP people had paid extra for those bags.

Yeah. It was fun.

The first thing I did upon finally getting into the Javits Center was find Hannah’s family in the line for the official BookCon bookstore (located in what had been BEA’s shipping cavern), because we’d picked up coffee for her grandmother while at Dunkin’.

I thought 2014 had been chaos? No. Chaos was that football field-sized room.

To the left of the doors were the lines to get wristbands for the Special Events Hall panels, flooded with people already lined up to see John Green and Co. at the end of the day. At the far end of the room and stretching almost all the way back to the doors were the autographing lines, at that point fairly empty but already buzzing with activity as people gathered around the white boards near them to figure out which authors were signing when. And finally, to the right of the doors, was the nightmare that was the line for the bookstore.

It was a mob. You couldn’t tell where one curve of the line ended and the next began. I waded through the exasperated, shouting masses and practically had to toss the coffee at Hannah’s outstretched hand.

I managed to squeeze my way back out alive and took a second to catch my breath. Then I got out of that room as quickly as possible.

However, that was the end of the bad part of BookCon.

And I heard that they got straight onto fixing the mess in the cavern, so the chaos died down within a couple hours. And, spoiler: When we arrived on Sunday, they’d figured out how to handle the line into the building well enough that it was, get this, nonexistent (more on that in the next post).

So, say goodbye to Complain-y Julia and hello to “OMG I HAD SUCH A GOOD TIME” Julia.

Part I of Saturday: Show Floor and Signings

The first thing I did once the mess was over was find the Wreck This Journal event Random Penguin was hosting. There I added Ch1Con to the life-size Wreck This Journal they were putting together, got my first tote bag of the day, and met up with blog reader Rachel for some freaking out and picture-taking.

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From there, Madre and I headed to the other end of the Random Penguin area to meet one of my favorite authors from when I was growing up: Norton Juster(!!!)

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He was funny and kind and I kind of want him to be my grandfather.

After that, we grabbed tickets for Macmillan’s One Book panel (detailing the publishing process from start to finish, following one book), then split up to wander. I grabbed some more free stuff, met a random debut author whose in-booth signing line I accidentally found myself in, and pet the Menswear Dog. We attended the One Book panel together, got ARCs of the book signed, then split up again.

This time Madre went to stash all the free stuff so far that day in the suitcase while I went to check on Hannah’s family, once again trapped in the bookstore line. I was planning on hitting some signings in the autographing area at that point, but pretty much every signing for the rest of the day had already maxed out. So, instead, I found my way back up to the show floor, where I grabbed a ticket for Carrie Ryan’s in-booth signing, then attended the Inside the Recording Studio panel on making audiobooks.

The Inside the Recording Studio panel was super cool, in large part due to the fact that a couple of the people on it worked on the Harry Potter audiobooks. They talked about how they originally weren’t going to make American audiobooks for the series, but then someone high up at Scholastic decided that the original British narrator was (get this) “too British,” so they got Jim Dale instead. And now he has a Grammy for it. So, like, that happened.

After that was the Carrie Ryan signing, which was very cool.

Part II: Movie Panels Galore

I love movies almost as much as I love books, so I spent my afternoon going to lots of film adaptation-themed panels.

First was the Me and Earl and the Dying Girl panel, featuring:

  • Alfonso Gomez-Rejon (director)
  • Jesse Andrews (author and screenwriter)
  • Thomas Mann (Greg, aka “Me”)
  • Olivia Cooke (Rachel, aka “Dying Girl”)

I haven’t read the book or seen the movie yet, but my screenwriting class did study the first act of the screenplay a few weeks ago, so it was amazing to get to learn about the process of adapting the story and all that. (Also, if you ever have the chance to read the screenplay for Me and Earl, do it. Do it now. It’s freaking hilarious.)

The way the Me and Earl adaptation came about is also a really cool story. Author Jesse Andrews imagined his own childhood home and high school while writing the novel and screenplay, and that came through so much in the writing that they realized they couldn’t shoot the movie anywhere else. So they got his parents (who still live in the house in which he grew up) to lend them his bedroom, and they got permission to fix up parts of the old high school (which had already been approved for demolition at that point) to film the school scenes.

They laughed about how Jesse’s mom would make all the crew breakfast down in the kitchen while they filmed scenes upstairs in Jesse’s bedroom, and like–how awesome is that?

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After the panel, everyone rushed the stage to get books signed. I managed to get close enough for awkward stalker shots of the actors.

After the Me and Earl panel, my mom and I went and checked out the VIP lounge, spent some time trying to locate our VIP tote bags (still to no avail), then stopped by the Rotten Tomatoes panel. (It was as hilarious and insightful as should be assumed.)

Then came the main event: the Paper Towns panel.

Speaking on the panel were:

  • Kathleen Heaney (moderator)
  • John Green (author)
  • Justice Smith (Radar)
  • Nat Wolff (Q)
  • Michael H. Weber (screenwriter)
  • Ryan Lott (composer)

People had been lining up for it all day, because despite the fact they all already had wristbands guaranteeing they’d get in, everyone still wanted to get as good of a seat as possible. Since we had VIP passes, we just had to show up a half hour early and were guaranteed admission (thank God).

The moment the doors opened to the VIP line, we all sprinted for the front of the Special Events Hall. Hannah and I ended up grabbing seats for our group in the second row, stage right. Which meant our view was this:

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Teeny tiny complaint about the lack of women on the panel. I’d assumed when they announced who’d be on it that they’d asked the female stars of the film to be on the panel, and they’d just turned it down for whatever reason. From the sounds of it, that wasn’t the case. Disappointing, BookCon. (But also: OMG JOHN GREEN AND NAT WOLFF.)

Our seats also meant that when it came time for the audience Q&A, we were right next to the microphone, so Nat Wolff and John Green and all of them looked right at us as they listened to people’s questions. Which was, you know, all right.

They showed us the new trailer that was going to premiere during Pretty Little Liars later that week, spent a ton of time having to explain inside jokes and on-set antidotes to us (like the time Nat and Justice got themselves kicked out of their apartment complex from shooting down a light that was annoying John with BB guns), and confirmed that John’s cameo made the final cut of the film.

This was news not only to us, but John himself, and he positively FREAKED. OUT. when he realized he was going to be in the movie. It was hilarious. Such a good panel.

It ended up running over (although the staff didn’t let it go as long as they did the Fault in Our Stars panel last year), and they jokingly had all of the people waiting in line at the microphones shout their questions at once, then gave out random answers (“Yes! No! Only on Sundays!”). But even then the audience got really upset (in a scary way) when they realized it was over. Hundreds of people rushed the stage and security ended up having to escort the panelists off while BookCon tried to sedate the mob by playing the new trailer again.

Now compare that reaction to what’s been going on with John Green the past couple weeks. Fame is scary.

Part III: Something Rotten (Is Ridiculously Good)

After the Paper Towns panel, my mom and I temporarily said goodbye to Hannah’s family while they grabbed a taxi and we grabbed our now full suitcase from the luggage check. Then we half-walked, half-ran with it all the way back to the hotel. Because we all had tickets to see Something Rotten. And it was starting in a half hour.

Luckily, Madre and I managed to dropped off our stuff at the hotel and get into the theater just before the lights went down, but it was a stressful thirty minutes (especially because I was starving by then).

Something Rotten was AMAZING. I haven’t laughed that hard at a show since Book of Mormon and I highly recommend it if you’re in NYC. (“A Musical” is my favorite number to come out of a Broadway show possibly ever. SO GOOD.)

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After the show, we parted ways with Hannah’s family again. My mom and I wandered into the Theatre Circle gift shop because she’d never been and ogled all the Broadway paraphernalia, then finally, FINALLY went to John’s Pizza for dinner.

After an entire day of standing and carrying around a billion books, on minimal sleep, with only a 240 calorie “healthy” breakfast sandwich from Dunkin’ Donuts in my stomach, you had better believe I was ready to eat that entire restaurant Hansel and Gretel-style when we walked in at eleven PM.

Madre is much healthier than I am, so she ordered grilled vegetables. I ordered mozzarella sticks and pizza and gorged on both of them until I dozed off at the table.

From there, it was back to the hotel, where we packed to go home and finally dropped off to sleep.

And that was the end of Day 2!

Congratulations, if you survived this entire post. Part 3 (Sunday of BookCon) will be coming soon!

~Julia