Monday, January 9, 2012

Trust Your Readers

Last night I stayed up late to finish The Memory Keeper's Daughter by Kim Edwards. It was a good book but there was something about it that annoyed me- the repetition.

The book is about a woman who gives birth to twins. It's a snowstorm and her doctor husband and his nurse are the only ones in the delivery room. It is 1964 and she is knocked out during the delivery as was common at the time. The first baby is born, a healthy boy, but then the second is born, a girl with Down's Syndrome. The father decides that the nurse should take the baby to an institution and that he will tell his wife that the baby was dead at birth.

We read this scene early in the book but parts of it are repeated over and over. It is as if the author doesn't trust that you'll remember it. Yes the scene is critical, more reason that it will be remembered. As I was reading last night, I was becoming more and more annoyed. And it is not just this scene that is repeated. The book might have been significantly shorter had the author and the editor trusted the readers.

Readers remember everything. If you've accidentally changed the colour of your protagonist's house, readers will spot it. Even if it is only mentioned once. It's okay to mention aspects of critical scenes again, but to repeat the entire thing over and over just becomes tiresome. Trust your readers and respect that they will follow your story.

12 comments:

Tania Hershman said...

Very interesting point - shame her editors didn't spot it, or didn't understand about trusting the reader. This is such a Huge thing, pretending one child is dead, a reader who forgot that wouldn't be reading very carefully..

That's what it's all about, eh? Yes, readers will not only remember the things you want them to, they will spot things far subtler than you might think they/we will. Underestimate the reader at your peril.

Sue Guiney said...

Soooooo important. And thanks - because it comes as a reminder to me just when I'm about to finish draft 1 and reread it for all the terrible mistakes and clunks I have inevitably made. Like not trusting my reader at times....which actually really means not trusting myself to have written it strongly and well enough the first time.

Joyful said...

I read that book a few years ago. I remember feeling very annoyed with it too (though I've long forgotten the reason). I also remember the book as being too long. It was nice to hear your experience was the same though overall it was a decent book.

Lauri said...

Yes it did go too long, Joyful. But too I liked the book, I thought it started form an interesting premise apparently based on a story she was told that was quite similar, though not as happy at the end.

Myne Whitman said...

This reminds me of the Song of Ice and Fire series by George Martin. All 5 books so far are almost or more than a thousand pages each. And in my opinion, several of those pages could have easily been cut.

Lauri said...

It makes you wonder, Myne, where the editors are.

Jeffrey Willius said...

Hi Lauri -- I'm so glad to have come across your beautiful blog! I like this post, but especially enjoy your observations and photos of Nature.
Thanks for the good work you do.

Helen Ginger said...

I believe that if you have to repeat something, do it in a different way or from a different perspective. It has to be different. If not, your readers will get frustrated, like you did.

Lauri said...

Thanks for stopping by Jeffrey.

Yes, Helen, I believe the same thing, there are ways to do it without being obvious.

World Famous said...

nicely written blog and intro of the book, the man how snatch the baby doll from her mother and said to nurse to take the child to an institute and tell the lady she the one baby was died at the time of birth.
shame on him.

World Famous said...
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