Why? She asked.
The best part of book shops is the casual browse. The other day I picked up a random book, which will remain unnamed. It might have been yours. Congratulations on being published. The blurb successfully attracted my attention, while the cover had a modicum of cool and attractiveness, which invited me to open it up to about half way through and scan a page. It was all good – until this point.
Sadly I had to stop halfway down this page. Disappointed and confused, I plonked the book down and carefully backed away from this sale, which would have benefited you. Why? Because there, right there on the page, the character in the novel asked a question and then you, Author, finished it off with a question mark, followed by ‘She asked’. The pain, I can tell you, was painful.
Why? Why do this? I could see it was a question, since a question mark was used and it was also part of a conversation with the next character responding. In addition, only two characters were involved in this exchange. It wasn’t rocket surgery to work out.
Author, you could have included something like “…? She bit her lip, her brow creasing as she waited for him to answer” to add a visual indicator to her emotions. Or, you could have left it at the question mark. Less is more. It was a question – it’s not a stretch for readers (even me) to work out who was speaking and the intent of what was said. Really, using a question mark in this situation wouldn’t have been a stretch at all. It’s just grammar.
So Author, I just wanted to let you know I can read. If I pick up your book I will try to work out most of what you’re saying and if I can’t I can re-read it, consult a friend, go to Wikipedia, or perhaps just reach my own conclusion about what you mean. What I really want to let you know, is that everything doesn’t have to be sign-posted with a big THIS IS WHAT THE CHARACTER MEANS description. I guess I’m asking for you, Accomplished Author, to trust me and trust your prose. It’ll be alright.
This is what happens just so you know. I buy your book and then this book and I develop our own relationship, I get to know it and it may stick around in my collection or be recommended or perhaps go away and live somewhere else if we don’t get on. There’s only so much you can do about that last one. But mainly, I wanted to let you know I experience your Author’s prose through the faculty of my imagination. I only want my reading – your book, your words – to fire it up.
A version of this first appeared on the Best Damn Creative Writing website a while ago now.