Readers Are Not Stupid

Jun 14, 2010

When I was a kid, like eight or so, I was an avid rock collector. I had so many marvelous pieces of geology, I wouldn't even notice when my mom sneaked into my room and threw away one rock-filled yogurt container a day. Then one day, I found a truly amazing rock.

It was big. It was flat on the bottom and round on the top. It looked exactly like a turtle shell.

So I took it home, whipped out the green construction paper, and made myself a pet turtle. I filled a shoe box with grass, stuck the turtle inside, and happily carried my turtle everywhere. One day, at my sister's soccer game, Turtle and I were playing at the park. Two Big Girls-- at least 14-- asked what was in the box. When I showed them Turtle, they oohed and ahhed over how cute he was, asked what he liked to eat, and pet his construction paper shell.

I just stared at them, confused. Couldn't they tell he wasn't a real turtle? Were they drunk? Were they stupid? Or was I just that good at making a rock look like a turtle?

Herein lies a valuable lesson: Kids aren't stupid.

I think it's some kind of innate human trait to treat those younger than us as though they're stupider than us. I think it's a natural tendency for some YA and MG writers-- you're writing for people younger than you, so dumb it down! Writing for your audience is one thing; being condescending toward them is another. I've done this a few times in my current wip unconsciously, and had to go back and correct things.

In fact, it's not even unique to YA and MG. I've occasionally read things-- and written them-- for adults that treat the reader like they're too dumb to notice subtle hints. It drives me nuts, and is something I try to be careful of in my writing.

So what about you, fellow writers? Is this something you struggle with? How do you decide what to spell out versus what not to at the risk of treating your readers like idiots?


M Pax said...

I'm all for respecting the intelligence of readers and young people. They might like different kinds of stories than adults, but it doesn't mean they're less savvy.

Sarah said...

I used to be an avid rock collector too! I think we are secretly sisters.

I love your blog! Keep it up!

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