Narrative Trust

Editors cannot trust the author.

Readers must trust the author.

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 realized 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.

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