Show and Tell: Reader Type Tips Writer's Take


As a writer, you are writing for a reader. And not just any reader. The type of reader who would pick up your type of writing and read it. Your writing must give the reader what they want in the way they want it. Let’s look at some examples.

Newswriting. Why does someone browse a news website? Why would someone pick up a newspaper at an airport? Why would someone read it? They want to know what is going on in the world. They want the current information and they want it now. So how do you write for them? Well, I have the answer to that because print journalism professors drilled it into my head from the very first assignment in my very first pre-communications-before-I-was-accepted-to-the-communications-program class. The very first one or two sentences of a hard news story should clearly tell the reader the story and be followed by paragraphs of story in descending order of importance. The summary lead of this traditional inverted pyramid news writing style should answer as many of the 5 Ws & H as possible: Who, What, Where, When, Why, and How. “It lets the reader grasp the news of the day conveniently by simply skimming lead paragraphs. The form allows readers to decide whether they want to continue reading a story or leave it after any one of its paragraphs” (Newswriting and Reporting for Today’s Media page 45). The reader of news stories expects the writer to deliver information upfront without sugar coating and fluff (or they might stop reading).

Poetry. Now, to start off. I am not a poetry expert. However, I did publish poetry in one of those general poetry books while I was still in high school. (I still get e-mails from the poetry organization asking for more poetry to publish). I would venture to say that the expectations of a reader of poetry are quite opposite to that of one reading a hard news story. They don’t want to be told everything upfront. A reader of poetry wants the writer to deliver a message that uses words to creatively symbolize the essences of life. A poetry reader wants to ponder its meaning and feel enriched from the experience. In other words, the reader of poetry wants to see crucial information in each word the writer uses.

Fiction writing. This is where I am the reader and striving to become the writer. As a reader, I want to be drawn in, led along eagerly, jumping from one thread of story to the next without being told every detail. I want the bare minimum, only given those essential tidbits to make me hungry for more. It isn't until the climax and falling action that I, as a reader, want the writer to give me all the information, including discovering a deeper meaning.

To write for a reader of fiction, I believe techniques I've observed from both news writing and poetry can be used. From news writing, the concept of cutting the fluff (long, drawn-out explanations usually lose me unless I'm already interested). From poetry, the idea of revealing deeper meaning with fewer words. This is how Jon Franklin says to approach the writing of a story (and I wholeheartedly agree and attest to completely as a reader): “Wherever possible, the master storyteller scrupulously avoids telling the reader how a character feels, or why he does a thing. Instead he shows the reader what happens, and what the character does in response, and what happened then. If he does this correctly, the reader will automatically understand where the character is coming from.”

Writing craftsmanship and artistic expression come when the writer delivers his or her uncompromising message while in the same moment giving the reader what they want in the way they want it. How do you do this? 

Show. Then you won’t have to Tell.

Poetry and News writing.

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