Trusting the Audience

Posted Jan 19 2012, 7:12 pm in , , , , , , ,

I think as writers there is a fine line we travel between trusting our audience and not revealing enough. I’ve talked about this before when I talked about my love for Leverage. In that post I talked a little about showing versus telling and how a little goes a long way. Today, I’m going to take it a step further and talk about trusting your audience.

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As I mentioned in that Leverage post, as a writer, I tend to under-inform my reader, especially in early drafts. I don’t want to bore anyone with an info-dump of backstory. Sometimes that means that I confuse my reader. I have a critique partner that considers herself a lazy reader. She wants the author to come out and just say things instead of implying it or leaving it for her to figure out. I, on the other hand, become irritated when an author feels the need to tell me the same things multiple times. Once is usually enough.

My TV example for this is Criminal Minds. I love this show. I’ve been watching from the very beginning and have never missed an episode. Nothing beats watching the BAU (FBI’s Behavior Analysis Unit) develop a profile for a serial killer and then go after him. In developing their profile, the team often brainstorms with each other either in the conference room or on the plane en route to the killer’s city.

For those of you who haven’t watched the show, Spencer Reid is a genius with a photographic memory. He can remember everything he’s ever read. This, in addition to the genius status, makes him somewhat of a know-it-all. I don’t mind when he spouts off random facts. I find it entertaining. What irks me is when he tells the team something they probably (or should) already know. For example, as a regular viewer of the show, I know that rape is not about sex; it’s about exerting power over the victim. If I know this, shouldn’t the entire team know this?

Here’s a clip where Reid feels the need to tell the team about arsonists (it comes in at about :43):

I think that the team would know this basic definition of an arsonist. I would be offended if he did this to me at every meeting. I know that the writers of the show are adding that information in for viewers who might not be aware of the BAU basics, but for those of us who do know, it ends up being what’s known as a “You know, Bob” conversation.

On Twitter last month, Carina Press editor Angela James made mention of the use of “You know, Bob” conversations as a means of giving backstory to the reader without it being a straight info-dump. Things like “You know when my dad took off my mom was crushed, Bob,” or “We’ve been friends since the sixth grade, so you remember the first girlfriend I had broke my heart.” As a reader, these conversations annoy me. And that’s what leads me to leave details out of my writing.

If my heroine is talking with her girlfriends about her cheating ex-husband, she’s not going to use his name and then remind them that he cheated. They should know this. Now, it’s not that I’m trying to keep things from my reader. My heroine might have a thought about how hurt she was to see him hanging on another woman because it brought back bad memories. To me, that’s enough of a hint.

As a reader, I don’t need the whole backstory, just give me enough to know what’s going on and let it come out naturally.

What do you think? Do you prefer to have things spelled out, even if it’s not a natural conversation? Do “You you, Bob?” conversations bother you?

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