Writer’s Log: 1354 Narrative Trust

Editors cannot trust the author.

Readers must trust the author.

[This is a reblog of this same post from February — testing the date alteration in WordPress as an experiment…]

Editors are there to seek out issues with the writing. They’re not there to get wrapped up with the story flow and character attachment. If they get too involved, if they begin to trust the author — while wearing their editor hats, they’ll miss mistakes that they are there to catch.

Readers are hoping to trust the author, to invest themselves with the writing and the characters, to abandon their doubts and get swept up with the energy and conflict. And if they attain this reverie they’ll gladly glaze over mistakes that slipped through the editing process.

Readers want to trust, but editor’s can’t afford to.

More specifically, narrative trust is the acceptance of the author’s skill that what you’re reading will not contain grammar, spelling, or cognitively jarring mistakes. It may take a chapter or five to slowly build up this trust, but once you’ve achieved it, you’ve given the author power over your immersive experience. The story takes over. The narrative quivers to life in your mind. You, as a reader are, in a word, hooked. At this point a reader trusts the author to not betray them.

Editors can never allow this aura of involvement to occur. They need to be on constant alert for errors — of any kind. Editors must remain detached, aloof from the seductiveness of the writing. Often this is not a problem as most writing lacks the perfection required to enter that reading nirvana. It’s a sad state for an editor; to blind their critical eye, to give in to a story, that experience can be blissful — that bliss is narrative trust.

Readers, on the other hand, want to suspend their distrust of the author’s ability. They want to believe the author, the writing, the story will unfold like a petaled flower, like a well crafted puzzle, like an exquisitely wrapped Christmas present. If it does, the experience is sublime. If it doesn’t, then the clunk the reader feels when shaken out of the narrative dream is unsettling. Tiny mistakes will often be overlooked by a reader in-the-groove. That’s why editors can never allow themselves the luxury of narrative immersion.

Achieving such a state of author trust is the goal of every reader. Creating such a narrative that induces such a state — the goal of every author. Editors ride the line between the two.

Narrative trust:

  • If you’re an editor, it’s a state that must, sadly, be avoided.
  • If you’re a reader, it’s a state that hopefully awaits your next page turn.
  • If you’re a writer, good luck evoking it for it is one elusive endeavor.

An associate, I’ll link his blog but don’t want to risk disparaging his good name on this controversial site, pointed out that there were additional aspects to building narrative trust, which had nothing — directly — to do with the actual writing. In response I penned the following…

Author credibility absolutely enters into the equation. And as you say, it would be the initial hindrance or impetus regarding attaining narrative trust, depending on initial impressions of the author, the publisher, the cost, the venue (hardback, softback, kindle), the source (recommended or random find), and the genre (is it a drama, sci-fi or mystery, a genre you’re interested in?) — all this even before you’ve cracked the cover.

New authors, like myself, have it doubly hard convincing any reader that they won’t, first off, waste their time reading our work, and secondly, they will achieve a sense of narrative trust, sometime (hopefully early) in their literary consumption of our stories. Having none of the credibility granted to any novelist already established, new authors must realize the imperative of presenting the epitome of a perfect manuscript to readers.

It’s rather a conundrum: fresh authors have little experience in producing perfection but must endeavor to do so else they’ll never get read. Experienced, credible authors have a reduced need to convince readers to trust their stories as, well, they’re credible authors, yet they’ve the experience to produce a higher quality product. Catch-22.


6 responses to “Writer’s Log: 1354 Narrative Trust

  • Phil Huston

    While I agree to an extent, and never expect an editor to edit content, they have to read the damn story. I just had an “edit” of a short story done. They climbed into my Word Doc and started right in. No grasp of where the story was going, who was in it. Missed most of it being in Grammarly mode. I have Grammarly. They got to the end and said “Oh. That wasn’t as bad as I thought it was going to be.” WTF? An editor making assessment of character behavior needs to understand the characters or we end up with a bunch of cardboard sameness. So I busted them for it. Read. The. Damn. Story. Point out inside out sentences, don’t tell me to “tell” before you read the characters doing that for me, or to develop a throwaway character before you understand what’s going on and what’s important. You can probably tell it pissed me off. Editors owe the author enough to respect the story and fix their mechanics. Not go, “Oh, wow. That was okay” after dropping BS like their opinions about nothing along the way were golden.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Anony Mole

      Copy edit vs content edit vs plot and structure edit.
      So, I see copy edits as pure mechanics. All grammar, all inside out sentences, all wrong words or awkward phrasing should be fixed by the copy editor.
      The content editor, to me finds the weak characters, the thin scenery and imagery, the passive vs active voice, and improper POV and character voice. I’ve found these kinds of people are hard to find.
      The plot and structure editors? These are even more rare. Does the plot work–at all? Are there plot holes? Is the chronology weird or inverted or gapped?
      But what’s curious is that these are the most obvious problems to find — if you read the story /without/ your editor’s hat on.
      When you want to attach yourself to the story, but can’t because of glaring plot or structure issues, those are the problems I want to know about — those are the ones I find hard to see being so close to the material.

      Thanks for the angst-riddled comment – which is welcome here, for sure.

      Liked by 1 person

      • Phil Huston

        Most editors don’t or won’t edit content and don’t want to and will tell you that up front. The best thing for WTF editing is a good set of beta readers who will ask pointed questions. Glaring plot and structure issues should be called out by beta readers or a couple of “reviewer” types. I mean we should know if it sucks or not. We need “professionals” to say things like “you don’t need to stake every step of your characters life with them” only once, agreed? Awkward sometimes we can’t see. Iffy pronoun references, bad or out of whack dialogue, all down to beta readers with skill sets. Or read it out loud, listen back, Unless you’re throwing real money at “editors” for a sit down on your work, you won’t get satisfaction. Retired English Professors are good for that sort of thing.

        Liked by 1 person

        • Anony Mole

          I’ll admit that I’ve met few beta readers who are willing to go the distance with such nuanced critiques.
          I agree that your expectations sound perfectly logical. The level of editing, done by true editors, one would think, should be the “replace the transmission” type edits, not the “change the spark plugs” or “buff out the scratches” editors.
          I’m afraid that by the time I will have gotten to the “this story needs a new clutch and a head gasket” level, the manuscript would be in a condition that says, “sorry, that clutch was original and yeah it leaks oil, oh well,” and so onto the scrapheap it will go.

          Liked by 1 person

          • Phil Huston

            I’m a firm believer in “tell your story” and deal with people who agree, on an artistic level, whether your content is their norm or not. I learned in the music biz that you can only a polish turd for so long before you have to cut it loose, or you’ll be fixing it till you die. Coming up, Bobby B explains POS. Don’t miss that one, it’s relevant.

            Liked by 1 person

  • duncan

    Very insightful. I love the phrase, “narrative trust.” (By all means link me to your disreputable site!)

    Like

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