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HomeFiction Writing Tips • 2008-11-25 Why do readers seem to know more?

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Why do readers seem to know more?
Posted November 25, 2008

Volunteer readers have been responding to the manuscript for a new Carl North novel, an unpublished sequel to SNOW CANDY. I'm working in the noir tradition but setting these books in modern times. It's a tricky road sometimes, easier to avoid cliches like shamus and patsy and rum-runner than to deal with the changes in gender perceptions since the 1930s and 40s.

What's amazing about this process every time is the amount of stuff a writer misses.

Some of it is obvious. Duh, a police officer would not lock a vehicle door and then step out of it.

But some of it is both more subtle and more powerful. Why is it that a reader can sometimes distill more of what the book is, or could be, about than the writer can?

One answer is that writers get too close to their own work. Another, linked to the first, is that we become too attached to it. A third (hate to admit this one) is that we may not have done as much work as we should have in understanding a secondary character.

I've had the experience in reverse. Sometimes when I read somebody's manuscript, I see an important aspect the writer missed.

Some things, we'll die without understanding. Guess that's why they're called mysteries.

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