Writing Tip #45

It’s okay to remind the reader of things now and then. I don’t know about you, but while reading a book I often find myself wondering: Now, who is this person again? Why is this piece of information important? I don’t know if my retention is lacking or if I’m just too scattered these days while trying to read an entire book, but I’m always happy when an author will offer a quick and gentle reminder of something, important or incidental, saving me from having to flip back to where I thought the original mention was.

As a journalist, though, I’m not really inclined to repeat myself. It’s not part of what I do. I say it once, and if you missed it, oh well. And I’ve realized as I do my final (fingers crossed!) edit of Baby Grand that the journalist in me has come to expect a lot from readers. I may mention something in passing in Chapter 2 and then expect readers to remember what I’m referring to when I bring it back up on page 200. So I’ve been throwing in some reminders myself. Not all books require a flowchart or family tree, as provided by books such as The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo or The Red Queen, but I’ve come to realize that there’s nothing wrong with a little repetition — or, as I like to think of it, reinforcement. Of course, you don’t say it again as if you’re saying it for the first time — your readers will think you have Alzheimer’s. But you can validate that inkling readers have of “I know I’ve read something about this before” so that they can have piece of mind that they are totally in the know as they go forward.

Finding the time to read is hard enough. I figure as a novelist if I can make the process a little easier it’s the least I can do.

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9 thoughts on “Writing Tip #45

  1. Very good post, Dina :-)

    I published my novel without a “glossary”, though it was recommended by various beta-readers. Still, those I trusted the most felt it needed none.

    When I do a 2nd Edition, I may change my mind :-)

  2. I wish more authors would zero in on the ‘quick and gentle reminder’ suggestion. Sometimes, when reading a book that is fairly good, I want to scream at yet another reminder that person X can’t trust person Y because person Z did something that makes it impossible for them to trust anyone.

    • Kristy, yes! Actually, I should have mentioned that in my blog post. You are so right! I just finished a book that was so gosh-darn repetitive I wanted to toss it across the room and say, “I get it! I get it! She’s religious. You don’t have to hit me over the head with it EVERY chapter!” Yes, an occasional, gentle reminder of things here and there. Not everywhere. :)

  3. I agree with the importance of this — especially if there are many characters or characters who look similar or have similar names. I’ve read books where I simply can’t keep places and names straight, and reminders would be wonderful. Other times, as you say, they aren’t needed. It’s a delicate balance!

    • Totally, Julia! These days, I’m lucky I can keep the names of my kids straight. As my daughter likes to remind me, I usually wind up yelling out, “Grif… er, Jack… er, whatever your name is…” :)

  4. Thank you for this post. (I am shouting this as I offer you a handful of your favorite treat!)

    I am in the process of writing a self-proposed best seller. I was wondering about the reminders. Should I? Shouldn’t I?

    As Julia said, there is a delicate balance… and II like how you put it: reinforcement.

    • Darlene, thanks so much for stopping by — and the treats! And, yes, balance! Those well placed “reinforcements” can keep readers from being lost or confused without making them irritated because we’re treating them like imbeciles. :) Good luck with the bestseller! There, now I’m proposing it as well, so it HAS to happen! :)

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