Writing 101: Explain it to Me

I'm not afraid to admit that I don't know where Antigua is, or that I can't name any other city in Australia but Sydney. The difference is, I'm a lot more tactful than most readers are going to be when they have this problem. When you're writing a book, don't assume I know what couscous looks like, what tiramisu tastes like or what kiwi smells like. When you're writing, make sure you're explaining it to me. Otherwise, I'm just getting frustrated, and when there are new indie books cropping up on Amazon every day I'm simply not going to waste my time with a book that forces me to guess with every other page. 

What's That Mean? 

How many Caribbean islands can you name? Did you know that they have different names? Hawaii, which is also made up of multiple isles, also has different island names. But if you walk down any American street and ask people to start naming different islands, chances are the majority of them aren't going to give you an accurate answer. So if your novel largely takes place on Molokai, and you never explain to me that this is one of the Hawaiian islands, your book might as well be set on the moon as far as I'm concerned. I might even think it's a place that you simply made up, and spend the rest of the book in a lagoon of confusion.

How many times have you eaten foie gras? It's the liver of a foul (commonly duck) that is usually presented in a sort of soft, spreadable substance that's not quite a liquid or a solid. It's a very high-dollar delicacy, and lots of people may have a vague idea of what it is but not how it tastes, what it looks like or even how it's eaten. So how frustrated am I going to feel if you're giving me a scene where everyone's standing around eating it, and I can't even come up with the appropriate mental picture? 

You can write that a building "looks Japanese in design," and some people will conjure up an image...but others will have only a black space in their minds. Tell me how it looks, why it looks Japanese -- explain it to me

What I don't want to do when I'm reading is continually think to myself, what's that mean? I shouldn't be sighing and struggling when I'm reading, which is something that's meant to be for entertainment, education and inspiration. What are the chances that your readers are going to take the time to look something up in Google maps, pull out a dictionary or start searching for information on something you didn't explain properly? Isn't it a whole lot easier to simply close the book, and read one of the other millions that are available to them?

Always remember that the average American reads at an eighth grade level. This doesn't just extend to language skills and grammar knowledge; it also applies to the amount of information they've retained through education. Don't take geographical knowledge for granted, and assume that everyone knows where Melbourne is located. Don't assume that everyone understands that a souffle is a delicate custard dish. Don't make me work or it. People read to learn new things, so if you're presenting them and not explaining them I'm not getting anything out of your book.

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1 comment:

  1. Nice point Jade. I really think you made it clear here that maybe 1 out of 1000 people will actually go and search something they did not understand, the rest might just not even pay attention to the word or whatever he doesn't understand and skip over it completely. This is a great point, no one will read your novel if they can't understand it!