Are You Trustworthy?

I love the ballet. I love dance, in general, but ballet? Sigh…when I was much younger, my mother used to buy me season tickets for the ABT at Lincoln Center every year for my birthday. Golden days! Life changed. I couldn’t get all the way into the City so often, and the ballet season started passing me by.
Years later, she surprised me with tickets to one of my favorite ballet’s–La Bayadère, not just for me, but for my two daughters. Being in Lincoln Center again was so thrilling, and now to share it with my girls? Magical. But I was older by then, my life far different from the youngster who used to simply watch in abject awe. My writer-brain was fully fleged by then, and I made some interesting connections.
During the second act of La Bayadère, the male and female principals went into a lift that boggled my brain. The ballerina was very slight. His legs were like treetrunks. The ease with which he lifted her was astounding enough; the way she held her pose, body arched, arms reaching, unmoving while he turned round once, twice, three times. It was fluid, graceful, effortless, or so it seemed. Of course, it wasn’t. Trust, the giving and the taking of it, made it seem so.The female principal is all about trusting, while the male principal is all about being trustworthy. The absolute confidence she has in his ability to hold her aloft, and later, leaping at him and knowing he is going to catch her is a beautiful thing. Without that trust and trustworthiness, the beauty of the dance loses the abandon. It becomes steps painstakingly taken. It loses the magic. Sitting there in the dark theater, in thrall of the dancers, the thought returned every time she leapt, he caught; he lifted, she posed. On the ride home was when it truly hit me.

Readers trust. Writers must be trustworthy. Readers want to move into our created worlds whether a galaxy far, far away, a dragon-infested castle, New York City circa 1935, or present day LA, and live there for a while. When they pick up our books, read the blurbs, buy them, they’re saying, “I trust you to deliver.”  We writers are often given only one chance to do so. If we don’t prove trustworthy, those readers aren’t going to trust us again.

It’s a big responsibility being that trustworthy. And it’s hard to consciously keep our readers in mind when we write. They are our stories, after all. But if you’re writing with the hopes of anyone other than yourself reading your work, whether published or not, you’re entering into that contract of trust.Is this scene important to the book? Or do I just really like it? Does the reader need this information? Or is it simply cool stuff I’ve researched/invented that I want to use? Is using the word epicrisis* really necessary, or do I simply want to utilize my vast vocabulary? 

We have to write what we love. We have to stay true to our voices, our styles, our tics. They make us the writers we are. We also have to do it in a way that’s going to appeal to someone outside of ourselves. Don’t slip in that random character cut from another story because you really like him and want to use him somewhere. Don’t drop adverbs into the story because they are easier. Don’t infodump those cool worldbuilding or historical facts you have filled countless notebooks with. And don’t use words your reader is going to have to stop and look up.
If a dancer drops his partner, she may leap again, but it’s not going to be with the same abandon. Likewise, if a reader picks up a book that is more about the author’s pleasures than the story itself, the trust is broken. It might take a while to lose a loyal fanbase, but once you lose a reader’s trust, it’s GONE.
*epicrisis~praising or disparaging by paraphrasing or citing somebody else. In case you were interested. And yes, I had to look it up.
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15 Comments

Filed under Writing is Life

15 responses to “Are You Trustworthy?

  1. Great post, Terri, and so true. We can indulge here and there, but not to the point where we shut out everyone else. Sometimes I have to keep that under wraps. 😉

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  2. Terri, I so wish you were in KC so we could go see KCBallet’s “Alice in Wonderland” together. I had no idea you were a fan of the ballet!

    I loved this post & will

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    • Terri-Lynne DeFino

      I used to be quite the ballet and opera buff! I went every spring to the ABT ballet season, and every summer opera season at City Center (Lincoln Center for both.) It was so culturally STIMULATING! I saw Nureyev dance as Rothbart, Barishnikov in a modern grouping of vignettes, Cynthia Brown before she was prima ballerina…I get giddy remembering those days. Romeo and Juliet could well be cliche, but it remains my favorite. A very memorable one was Lizzy Borden. THAT was strange. I’ve never forgotten it. The opera at City Center was fabulous too, but my one chance to see Pavaroti sing La Boheme got snowed out. So disappointing! But–ah, those were the days!

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  3. Me again! Not sure why the last comment went up before I was finished. I loved your post & agree with every single point except this: “don’t use words your reader is going to have to stop and look up.”

    As a reader I am always hungry for new vocabulary, and as a writer I like to give my readers the same treat. I understand that vocabulary should never get in the way of the story, but sometimes the right word is the right word. I don’t think we should censor ourselves when it comes to uncommon words that can make the story more vivid, as long as we use them with care.

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    • Terri-Lynne DeFino

      I was expecting someone to argue that point, Karin! 🙂 It is argueable, certainly. The problem with using elevated vocabulary isn’t so much using the words, but not giving enough context for the reader to be able to glean the meaning from the surrounding words. Anything that stops a reader in her tracks, IMO, is bad–unless it is to heave a sigh of joy, or gather one’s courage to forge ahead. 🙂 If the reader can get the meaning in context, then look it up later, I’m all for it. I love it! Expanding your vocabular is one of the perks of reading. I am pretty confident you are a writer who gives the right amount of context.

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  4. Which is why every time I hear someone say “Publishers want books about shape-shifters who turn into cookies and then vampires” or some other such nonsense, I want to scream to just write the damn book YOU want to write. I believe you produce a more genuine product if it’s built from your true self, not whatever is the latest fad. Enjoyed the post!

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    • Terri-Lynne DeFino

      Catching a wave in publishing is nearly impossible, as we all SHOULD know. By the time you’ve caught it, it’s passe. Yes, yes, yes! We have to write OUR books. Thanks for coming by!

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  5. Another great post, Terri – I took ballet for many years, was Sarah in the Nutcracker, when I was smaller, then in the corp and in the corp of Swan Lake as well 🙂 I remember feeling like you did, being so small and watching the older dancers lift, twirl and glide over the stage 🙂 As for the writing analogy, it’s true, although, Stephen King has a had few reads that were not my favorite, but wrote what he wanted to write – and he hates adverbs, LOL – but I’ll take a leap of faith with him again 🙂

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    • Terri-Lynne DeFino

      I would LOVE to see pics of little you in your ballet shoes. I bet you were sublime.

      Hey, I’m still with George Martin despite my quibbling with his last two novels in the Game of Throne series. Sometimes, it takes a lot to dislodge a faithful reader, and sometimes it doesn’t.

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  6. In William F. Buckley’s first novel, I stumbled over a word I’d never heard before, and rushed to the dictionary. But I became furious when he used it again several chapters later, and I didn’t remember what it meant. My philosophy: Anything that stops the reader and interrupts the flow of the story is a mistake–a big mistake. I never finished the book or read anything else by him.

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  7. Terri-Lynne DeFino

    I have to say, Renee, that though I see Karin’s point (above) I am in the same camp as you are. If the word can’t be figured out through context and digested later, it’s a frustration to more than it is a boon to others.

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    • I would also say, that if you’re going to use an unusual word, use it only ONCE in the manuscript. (Unless it’s a word that’s important for the story; in which case it should be memorable.) I don’t think I’ve ever run across a new word in a story that can’t be interpreted from context. Then again, I’ve never read Buckley. 😉

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  8. Great post, Terri! I agree about difficult new words. One or two as I’m reading is fine, but I once read a book that had me looking up so many words I might as well have read the dictionary from A to Z. It was the second book I’d read by that author and didn’t have that problem with the first. Both books were good but I’m not sure I’ll ever read him again.

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    • Terri-Lynne DeFino

      Thanks, Maura! This is a tough one for me, because you know how I love to “discover” new words, but when it’s halting a story for me, I don’t love it so much.

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