Monday, March 29, 2010

Trust Your Reader!

One of the most frequently committed amateur writing errors is to TELL your readers what you want them to take away from your writing. It can occur as the 'show don't tell' rule. Instead of saying "She was frustrated and angrily shouted." Maybe "She stomped her feet, scowled and leaned forward into his face then bellowed, spit flying everywhere...."

I like allowing my readers to see the actions and feel the emotions that rise from those actions.

But sometimes I enjoy a lovely story and I don't care if there is telling or showing. I received a touching story today. My cousin fears her life will end if she doesn't pass on everything that says 'pass it on.' So I get lots of emails that have been circulating through cyberspace. Today it was the Shay Story. The father is a speaker at a school fundraiser and tells about his son who suffered disabilities.

The father said, 'I believe that when a child like Shay, who was mentally and physically disabled comes into the world, an opportunity to realize true human nature presents itself, and it comes in the way other people treat that child.'

It can be interpreted many ways. Some may see it as degrading to children or even adults for that matter, who live each day with courage and perseverence and with disabilities. I thought it a bit melodramatic and dripping with too much description. The author didn't quite trust his audience to get it, so he poured on every trick to manipulate.

And then the real turnoff. The chain mail threat and guilt message. Another blog reacted the same way I did. And she included the whole message. I try not to copy other people's writing without permission and I don't really know who to ask permission for this message.

Anyway, I was thinking of forwarding the message. But the author didn't trust his audience enough. So he threw in this: "AND NOW A LITTLE FOOT NOTE TO THIS STORY: We all send thousands of jokes through the e-mail without a second thought, but when it comes to sending messages about life choices, people hesitate. The crude, vulgar, and often obscene pass freely through cyberspace, but public discussion about decency is too often suppressed in our schools and workplaces. If you're thinking about forwarding this message, chances are that you're probably sorting out the people in your address book who aren't the 'appropriate' ones to receive this type of message...."

My first reaction was to think: "Who does this person think they are? They don't know me? Or they would not be threatening me or assuming things about me that are incorrect...."  I thought a few more unkind thoughts and reached to hit delete. Then I decided to write this blog.

Writers can learn alot from this Shay email. Just write your story. The deeper the emotion, the simpler the delivery should be. Don't pound it in. Be gentle. Don't tell a reader how to interpret it, write well enough that they'll get it and then give them room to enjoy, experience, digest what you've written.

I may not remember the Shay story, but I will still feel the disgust and anger over the stupid message at the end. Who are we to assume what others think, feel, do, or who they are!? Just write your story. Let the readers do the rest.

And do you ever wonder if any of these chain mail messages are for real? Well, this site evidently has checked out the Shay message and have a few interesting tidbits to add.