Tell your story without masking yourself

Under the heading of “don’t deceive your reader,” I want to file this piece of advice. When you’re telling your story, tell it directly, and don’t pretend it’s someone else’s.

I see this a lot, and I don’t understand why authors do it. They launch into a tale about “someone” who has an awe-inspiring life story and then at the end say “that person was me.” This is silly enough when the author goes to lengths to avoid using a proper name. It becomes reader deception when you slap a nom de guerre on the “character” and then reveal the character to be oneself.

Spending a page or three—or ten—faking out your reader is disingenuous. And what benefit does it bring?

None. It pulls the rug out from under your reader for no good reason.

© Mopic - Fotolia.com

© Mopic – Fotolia.com

Reader engagement will be faster, deeper, and more intense if you are open and vulnerable with them from the start. They have bought a book written by you. While it’s true that their foremost consideration is what’s in it for them, secondarily they want to know about you. Because you’re the author of the book they are reading. By purchasing your book, they have agreed to hear your story. They deserve to have it delivered appropriately.

I often tell fiction writers not to conceal the identity of the viewpoint character. For many of the same reasons, you shouldn’t conceal the identity of the protagonist when it’s you—especially if you are going to reveal that it’s you anyway. Modern readers crave authenticity. Lying to them, even briefly, damages the trust they’ve put in you.

Schemes like this are a misguided attempt at surprise. Yes, we want to use surprise to keep readers engaged. But we also want to be fair and honest. The best narrative nonfiction employs fiction techniques to keep readers engaged. But playing tricks on readers makes for unsatisfying stories. Tricks are therefore best avoided, because a reader who can’t trust you is likely to stop reading.

Our goal as writers is to engage readers and keep them turning pages. One of the best ways to do that, in nonfiction as in fiction, is to make the readers feel as if they are there. The way to do that, especially when we’re telling personal stories, is by being completely honest with them and allowing them to experience the story fully.

About Kristen Stieffel

Kristen Stieffel is a writer and freelance editor specializing in speculative fiction. She's a member of the Editorial Freelancers Association, Christian Editor Connection, and American Christian Fiction Writers.

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