July 11th, 2012

How we cheat the reader

We as writers have a tendency at times to cheat the reader. We’re not intending to. But we use imagery that we think they’ll interpret, and save ourselves a bit of writing. Here’s an example from an upcoming story of mine:

Heinrich stood blocking the exit at the bottom of the access tube. He was covered from his head down in full military armor. He projected business. No wonder the crowd was afraid.

Yeah, that works. Most people will visualize what military armor might look like, probably grabbed from video game commercials. But did I really do my job as a writer?

There are lots of points of view on this topic, but for my own writing I say no. I was cheating the reader, making them do all the visualization work. Yes, the reader has to visualize but we can make this a lot easier for them. Here’s what I’ve revised that part to:

  Heinrich stood blocking the exit at the bottom of the access tube. He was covered in full military armor. The helmet was made of transparent ballistic plastics, giving him perfect visibility. His torso was covered in metallic armor emblazoned with the UDF logo. The interlocking segments of armor on his legs trailed down to large armored boots which likely had powerful magnetic clamps.

  The boots gave him another foot in height, so he towered over the crowd in the tube. A huge double-barreled automatic rifle swung from ball bearing mounts on his armor. His arms loosely held several control brackets, one of which was obviously controlling the weapon. A precision aiming device covered one eye. The gun was aimed directly at the crowd. No wonder they had stopped.

I think the reader has a much better image of what Heinrich is wearing, and exactly why the crowd was intimidated. I’m glad this part is better. I hope to avoid this mistake in the future and never cheat the reader.

This was originally posted at http://www.jorhett.com/2012/07/how-we-cheat-the-reader/. You are welcome to reply at jorhett.com or here.