Put the story where the reader can see it

the reader Feb 09, 2023

Has this happened to you? You wrote a little something, or a lot of something, and you shared it with others.

You know it's not perfect. You’re expecting a few notes. But the reaction you get surprises you:

“I couldn't follow it.”

“I didn’t get it.”

“I just wasn't sure what was happening.”

This kind of feedback can be bewildering. What we wrote is so clear to us! So why did our readers find it confusing?

My dear storytellers, the art of writing really good fiction—fiction that works for the reader—is made of many different skills. One of the key ones is this: 

You must cultivate the ability to see your text as the reader sees it

Consider how well you know your book by the time you've got pages to show people. You’ve been working on it for months. You can recite chunks from memory. You know your characters like the back of your hand. 

But the reader is new in town. They only know what you put on the page, in the order you put it. 

They are at the mercy of what you’ve written, word by word. Left to right, top to bottom, page by page.

What this means in practical terms: Essential facts revealed on page ten do not help the reader follow the events of page two. Important attributes of the world we’re in or the hero of the tale (for example, Bilbo Baggins is a hobbit, and hobbits are conventional homebodies) will not be assumed by the reader who has never heard of hobbits. 

It is our job as storytellers to do the work for the reader. We must put the story on the page where the reader can see it.

We learn to anticipate what the reader needs to know in order to follow along, and we offer precisely the information needed at the moment the reader needs it. Not twenty pages before. Not twenty pages after. Right then!

In this livestreamed talk, I explore the idea of putting the story on the page where the reader can see it. How can we gain this essential skill? What does "putting story on the page" look like, anyway?

Do you struggle to know what your readers needs to know?  I’d love to hear your thoughts. Leave a comment and keep the conversation going.

Good writing is my jam! Put me on the mailing list, please.


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