WIP: Giving the Reader Some Credit

When I was a newbie writer, I took a class on writing the novel, and I remember the instructor telling us that we didn’t need to “explain everything” to the reader. A novice fiction writer often opens her book far too early in the story, thinking that she needs to start at the very beginning so that the reader understands the background behind the action. I remember that instructor paging through our manuscripts chapter after chapter, finally stopping at around chapter four, saying “This is where you really need to begin!” It’s better to simply toss the reader into the fray with some engaging scene and trust her to gradually sort out what’s really going on.
That’s the way it is with most movies. Pay attention during the next movie you watch. Aren’t you a little confused in the beginning? Slowly, though, things begin to make sense.
Even though my work-in-progress is my seventeenth, I’m still having to dial back my desire to over-explain all the relationships and past events early in the story. The chapter I’m revising right now. . . I actually think I can cut it out altogether and trust the reader to fill in the blanks. Otherwise, the pace will slow down and that’s the last thing I want. I need to remember that my reader will enjoy a feeling of discovery as she makes her way through the book. I don’t need to weigh her down with information she can figure out on her own.
That brings me to those of you who read the endings of books first. Please don’t!! The writer has worked very hard to reveal things in a way that tells the story perfectly. I’ve had readers tell me they get so worried as they read my stories that they have to skip to the end to be sure everything will turn out all right. Trust me–my books will not harm you! So please be brave and read them as they’re written. In return, I promise not to tell you any more than you need to know in order to feel you’re a living, breathing part of the story.


  1. Ann on June 6, 2007 at 12:37 am

    I promise not to read the ending first!! I have never done that! Maybe thought about it but resisted.
    I like to have a few questions about what is going on when I start a book.
    Enjoyed our week at Topsail last month. Had a really good meal at Daddy Mac’s.

  2. Margo on June 6, 2007 at 9:23 am

    I NEVER read the end first, but I know people who do and I give them a hard time about it. To me it spoils the entire adventure of the book! I will admit that once I read a book that involved an evil man who threw a little girl’s dog over a bridge to drown…I was SO UPSET that I had to jump ahead a few pages just to make sure that doggie survived (which he did thank goodness). Diane, I love the way you begin a story with action and then work back to events leading up to it. Your books always grab me that way; ex: Olivia literally holding Annie’s heart at the beginning of KEEPER OF THE LIGHT. You skillfully unravel a story from a dynamite beginning which makes your books exceptional. Never change, please.

  3. Diane Chamberlain on June 6, 2007 at 11:33 am

    thanks, margo. as for the dog-off-the-bridge incident, i probably would have had to read ahead as well. i can’t handle animals in jeopardy.
    ann, glad you had a good time at topsail! Mmm, Daddy Mac’s. You’re making me hungry.

  4. brenda on June 6, 2007 at 11:37 am

    Sorry!!! I read so many mysteries that I have to read the ending first…Don’t think I have done that in your books…:) 🙂

  5. Margo on June 6, 2007 at 11:45 am

    Brenda, I can’t believe you do that!!!!

  6. Kathy Holmes on June 6, 2007 at 4:18 pm

    I really dislike the trend nowadays to make books like movies – by starting in the middle of the action. I don’t even like movies like that. Upfront is when I like to slowly get to know the character’s story – it’s toward the end that I skip half of it – I just want to wrap things up. 🙂
    And I must say I’m loving Julie in “Bay.” I relate to so much. While my dh, who grew up on the Jersey Shore, calls his grandpa “grandpop” like in the book, we had the yellow Studebaker Lark, played canasta and I, of course, read every Nancy Drew.

  7. Diane Chamberlain on June 6, 2007 at 5:02 pm

    Interesting about the way you like books to begin, Kathy. Sounds like you really savor character development.
    Glad you can relate to so much in BAY and that you like Julie. Where on the Jersey Shore did your DH grow up?

  8. brenda on June 6, 2007 at 7:14 pm

    Sorry Margo-can’t help it!!!! I don’t like surprises…
    Kathy-another Nancy Drew lover–great!!!
    MIss the days of Canasta…

  9. brenda on June 6, 2007 at 7:25 pm

    Here is how I read D. Chamberlain. I give myself a gift. I take the book-as soon as I purchase it, and I read it as quickly as I can to get to the end-usually in one evening-I am a very fast reader. Then a couple of days later, I read the book more slowly and savor each word. Whenever I want a real BREAK, I reread the book-or one of her others. I cherish my time with the books of Diane Chamberlain…there are few such writers and BELIEVE ME, I read a lot. No matter what else I am doing, I am reading. Even though I will need to continue to teach 4 more years to be fully vested-and that will only give me 12 years as a teacher in this state (my 5 in the south don’t count toward retirement), and am considering teaching two nights at a university-writing/English–I will read often. When I am happy, sad, tired, rested…whatever…I read D.C. Her books-because of the effort she has shared with us-are the best.
    D-I have talked about you, but as you read this, know that I am a particular reader, and you can’t be beat…always remember that. This from the woman who read at least 200 books per summer while growing up–and one each night during the school year. I love reading…You are such a gifted person…

  10. brenda on June 6, 2007 at 7:29 pm

    Kathy-I can SO relate to your FATHERLESS Blogs…

  11. brenda on June 6, 2007 at 7:31 pm

    Diane, Of all the books I have read, so many stay with me…not to be forgotten…how did you come up with the idea for Cee Cee…just such an intriguing story…

  12. Julie on June 6, 2007 at 11:48 pm

    Read the ending first? Wow! That’s, um…crazy! 😉 I don’t even like it when a book ends without extra sheets of paper following because I might inadvertently read a few words when flipping back for author info, as often as that’s on the inside back cover.
    I have discovered a weird quirk, and have been taking an informal survey. Can you read a book without reading the back cover of a paperback or the flyleaf synopsis on a hardback. I can. not. do. it. I must have a point of reference or I feel completely lost when I start. I never thought about it until last week when I started a book someone had given me without reading the flyleaf, then finally figured out why I felt so disoriented! (I had taken off the paper cover to avoid ruining it.)
    And showing instead of telling, starting with the action, etc. Sigh…these are such hard lessons to learn! I heard an agent at a conference joking about how one day he or she was reading fulls and kept yelling to a coworker, “Another book that starts with chapter 3, dangit!”

  13. Diane Chamberlain on June 7, 2007 at 12:31 am

    “Another book that starts with chapter 3, dangit!”
    lol, julie.
    okay, i admit, i need to know a little something before i start reading a book as well. and i feel the same way about movies. otherwise, it’s disorienting. but i have to believe we’d catch on to the story sooner or later. and if it’s a gripping first scene, then it wouldn’t matter as much. but as kathy notes, not everyone DOES like a gripping first scene.
    brenda, i so envy your ability to read fast! i am a slow reader and always have been. i’ve often wondered how you manage to go through so many books. i don’t think i’ve ever mentioned one that you haven’t read!
    as for CEECEE, she’s one of those characters who popped up fully formed. Even her name–and you know the problems I have with names! Her story, though, was slower to come to me. Her past with her Mom and the letters came as a result of one of the writing exercises I do to deepen characters. But the story of the kidnaping and everything that resulted from it was simply a matter of asking myself a long, long chain of “what ifs?” over the course of many weeks.

  14. Kathy Holmes on June 7, 2007 at 8:43 am

    You have so many comments here already but I must say what a fabulous group of women you have hanging out on your blog, Diane. They’ve been so welcoming to me – I don’t think I’ve experienced this on any other blog.
    DH grew up going to Wildwood – his dad was a pastor and they spent the summers at the Boardwalk Chapel.
    What I forgot to mention is that all of those things I experienced like your character did on the Jersey Shore – I experienced growing up in southern California. DH and I have discovered that even though we grew up on opposite coasts, we had so much in common in our childhoods. I think the Jersey Shore people settled the southern California beaches. 🙂

  15. Kathy Holmes on June 7, 2007 at 8:45 am

    Oh – one more thing – the wild thing about CeeCee Wilkes (which I must read soon because I suspect all of Diane’s books are a gift you give yourself), I actually went to school with a girl named CeeCee Wilkes.

  16. Terhi on June 7, 2007 at 8:57 am

    I just read your book “The Bay at Midnight” in Finnish! In finnish it’s called “Kuunvalon lahti”. That would be “The Bay of Moonlight” in english. I love your books, I’ve read all of them whick are translated into finnish. I can see that you are developing as a writer and every new book is better than the last one. I hope you can visit Finland sometime maybe?

  17. Diane Chamberlain on June 7, 2007 at 9:12 am

    Kathy, you are right about the women–and a couple of men (hi Glen!) who comment on my blog–they are the best! I love when y’all start talking to one another. I absolutely cannot believe there’s a real CeeCee Wilkes!!!
    Terhi, I think you are the very first non-English reader to comment on my blog! Welcome, and I’m so glad you enjoyed KUUNVALON LAHTI. How pretty that sounds. I would love to visit Finland sometime–I get quite a bit of email from my Finnish readers and it would be great to meet them all.

  18. Margo on June 7, 2007 at 9:31 am

    Julie, your comment about reading back covers etc…I have stopped reading flyleafs, jacket covers and backs of books because they give out too much info and sometimes spoil a story. Unlike Brenda (hmmm, sorry friend) I like to be surprised and journey thru a novel without knowing too much. Diane has been very careful not to give too much info on her WIP which I’m glad for…she gives us a ‘glimpse’ (and sometimes teases us), but also includes us on the process and research she goes thru. My love for reading is for the ‘journey and adventure’ and learning along the way. Like Brenda, I feel Diane’s books are ‘gifts’ to us and whenever I buy her new one, or re-read an older one I hold it my hands as a treasure. She is the most gifted author I have ever read and will always be my favorite. Like Diane, I read slowly but I’ve read many, many books in my lifetime including all the Nancy Drew stories. My literary world would not be the same without Diane Chamberlain.

  19. Ann on June 7, 2007 at 7:43 pm

    I do read blurbs and back covers! I have worked in a library of 32 years and get asked many questions about books. I also read lots of book reviews so that I can answer as many questions as possible. It also gives me an idea of which books I want to read. I read as many as possible but not nearly as many as I would like to. I need Brenda’s ability to read a lot faster than I do. I love this blog because there are so many interesting people that participate.

  20. Diane Chamberlain on June 7, 2007 at 7:54 pm

    thanks for the kind words, margo.
    i see i’m not the only one who wishes she could read faster. brenda, is there a trick to it?

  21. Glen on June 7, 2007 at 7:58 pm

    Hi Diane! Thanks for the inclusion. This will probably be a thread killer but I’ll do it anyway. I so much enjoy reading the comments from all these wonderful and talented women. The conversations and topics are wonderfully interesting! I have to admint that I do, periodically, feel like an eavesdropper. Then I get over it :). IT’S A BLOG!!!
    Again, THANKS!

  22. Diane Chamberlain on June 8, 2007 at 8:21 am

    lol, glen. we welcome your participation. clearly you’re in touch with your feminine side. 🙂

  23. Margo on June 8, 2007 at 8:37 am

    Glen, I enjoy reading your comments. Join us more often!

  24. Kathy Holmes on June 8, 2007 at 9:21 am

    Wow – so many comments. I wanted to thank Brenda for her comment on my Fatherless blog (it’s all on my web site now) and to tell you, Diane, what a reaction I had when I saw CeeCee’s name in the book title – like “Do you know CeeCee Wilkes too?” 🙂
    I’m so loving “Bay” – we could have a whole discussion on that but it’s probably old news. Maybe I should check the archives.

  25. Brenda on June 8, 2007 at 9:26 am

    Okay!! I have to quit reading the end…just starting reading another one by Alex Kava and won’t read the last page first.
    Just finished one by an author I Like really well…wrote Susanna’s Garden…Debbie Macomber…her latest is a light read and quite good.
    Reading fast-just comes from reading so much throughout my life. Sometimes it is not the best thing-run out of books.
    As to reading the covers…I used to do that-but now with the dark colors–and my OLD eyesight==makes it much more difficult. If I can read students’ essays and not the covers-someone needs to think about that…
    Kathy-you are unique!! I can totally relate to what you write…
    A real Ceecee…wow!!!!
    I would welcome a discuss about BAY…

  26. Diane Chamberlain on June 8, 2007 at 9:47 am

    I’d welcome a discussion about BAY as well!
    and Kathy, I am planning (and have been for quite a while) to delve into your writings on being fatherless very soon. My character Maggie in my WIP is driven (subconsciously) by her fatherlessness. I plan for the sequel to focus on her discovery of how this part of herself has made her who she is (and has caused her quite a few problems.)

  27. brenda on June 8, 2007 at 2:07 pm

    How many times do we ask WHAT IF???
    THe girl in BAY asked that many times…WHAT IF she had told on her sister….what if??????
    P.S. Ann-I would love your job…all those books…

  28. Ann on June 8, 2007 at 2:23 pm

    Brenda, it is a dream job – I work Mondays and Tuesdays now – cut back my hours several years ago [ but so far cannot bring myself to quit entirely] so I could spend more time with family. I think I have the best of both worlds. Still wish I could read as fast as you do! I am reading “Queen of Broken Hearts” by Cassandra King and enjoying it but it seems to be taking me a long time to read it – I will NOT read the the last page though until I get there.
    I believe I will re-read “The Bay at Midnight” next. I enjoy reading Diane’s books over and over.
    Thanks Diane for all the reading pleasure. I have introduced many library patrons to your books and all of them come back for more of them.

  29. brenda on June 8, 2007 at 6:32 pm

    Ann-I imagine you have read most of D’s books, but one you should not miss-unusual and interesting—THE COURAGE TREE (I love all the books–this one intrigued me…)
    Just think of the people you touch as you suggest her books to the patrons in your library…

  30. Diane Chamberlain on June 8, 2007 at 6:37 pm

    Ann, you do have a dream job. And thank you, as always, for referring patrons to my books. I love librarians. i need a bumper sticker that says that.
    Brenda, is THE COURAGE TREE your favorite of my books? it’s my favorite title. 🙂

  31. Ann on June 8, 2007 at 7:27 pm

    I have read “The Courage Tree” and it is one of my favorites. I don’t think I could pick one that is the very best!! They are all so good that I never hesitate to recommend them to anyone. The first one that I read was “Keeper of the Light” and I have re-read that one at least 2 times.

  32. Trina Allen on June 9, 2007 at 10:10 am

    Thank you for this, Diane. I will remember what you said about giving the reader some credit in working on what I hope is the final rewrite of my YA novel. I am cutting where necessary, which is hard for me. It is good to know that experienced writers struggle with the same. I always appreciate reading about your writing process. It is very helpful to me as a writer.

  33. Diane Chamberlain on June 9, 2007 at 10:31 am

    trina, if you can see where you need to cut and have the courage to do so, you’re way ahead of the game! good luck with your work-in-progress.

  34. Kathy Holmes on June 9, 2007 at 12:08 pm

    Thanks, Brenda, for the compliment. And, Diane, yay on delving into fatherlessness – the first couple of novels I wrote all dealt with that. Perhaps I was too close to the subject because they didn’t go anywhere. So I made “Real Women Wear Red” deal with adoption instead and it was the best yet. I’m still toying with fatherlessness but from a different POV than my own.

  35. Diane Chamberlain on June 9, 2007 at 3:33 pm

    I think sometimes we ARE too close to the subject to be able to write well about it. it took me 16 books to finally write about rheumatoid arthritis (in CEECEE WILKES). It also reminds me of being a new therapist. My problem as a teen and young adult was agoraphobia and i so wanted to help people with agoraphobia that, when the first patient with that problem appeared in front of me, i scared her away with my zeal to help. (at least i assume that’s why she never came back–I hope she found help elsewhere). i realized then that it actually made more sense for me to refer those clients to other therapists (until I matured enough to be able to separate myself from the process, anyway.). good luck with your writing–a different POV, making that character different from you in many ways, is a good approach.

  36. brenda on June 10, 2007 at 7:44 pm

    The Courage Tree is not my favorite, but I loved it. The Annie books are my favorite (Keeper trilogy…) No Ceecee is my favorite…no BAY is my favorite…I can’t choose, but I will tell you that I read them ALL two times a year…my gift to me…
    I am burned out finally…teachers finish tomorrow…I will have two months to enjoy my family and to do some housework…write???
    I do plan to teach high school next fall (I have to work) and to teach College writing two nights a week-probably-we’ll see if I hold up…
    As to my Vietnam Novel, my columns, and my Vietnam Project-on hold for now…I am not in a writing or thinking mood now…I am worn out…as most teachers are at this time of year. This summer, I am not going to seminars, etc…until mid August…when school begins again.
    Diane-I will never get tired of listening/reading about your work in progress…
    Will probably be out of state this summer-grandchildren don’t live here…plan a trip with my son–IRONMAN competition, and probably south where he is moving later this summer…lots of driving…
    Have a good weekend.

  37. brenda on June 14, 2007 at 8:31 pm

    Kathy, It took me 35 years to have my HOME address again…same town…you can go home again…
    Ironically, I have a family member moving to Florida…we are excited as we will probably end up there…
    GUess you are traveling and moving as I write…

  38. brenda on June 24, 2007 at 9:27 pm

    Okay-I challenge those of you who read P.J. James to NOT go to the end…:) :
    Margo, I just gave my granddaughters the NANCY DREW books of her mom and her Nana and the complete set of Trixie Belden–my daughter liked her so so so much…SO many…Life does indeed come full circle.
    I am trying to stay away from reading for a little while-now I don’t mean I am not reading each day-but less time…other things are important to me right now…plus I have to do lesson plans or get very far behind…I need a week away with my laptop…or two or three…:)

  39. Diane Chamberlain on June 24, 2007 at 10:43 pm

    Trixie Belden! she was my favorite. Her friend was Honey Wheeler and her “boyfriend” was Jim. And Honey had a governess described as middle-aged. I remember asking my mother what middle-aged meant and she said 40!
    Now why can’t I remember what I had for breakfast??

  40. Brenda on June 27, 2007 at 5:07 pm

    Here’s what I tell my students when we study symbols, images, etc.
    birth to about 25 (used to be 20)
    spring (new, fresh, green, hope)
    summer 25-45 or so (used to be 20-40) the older I get…
    45 or so-60 (fall…brown…leaves changing…etc.)
    60 and up winter (white…etc.)
    My grandchildren are spring
    My children summer
    I am fall for two more months
    My husband is winter…
    That’s how they understand poetry (i. e. R. Frost) when they read about the seasons, colors, etc…
    Middle age used to be 40 but now, let’s face it-that is YOUNG…

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