Spare the Reader, Spoil the Reader?


We writers have a contract with our readers. We provide entertaining material, and they continue to read our stories. As writers, how much care should we take to not traumatize the reader. Should we carefully select how much negativity or uncomfortable information to share with them, or is that self-censorship not helpful? I asked author friends their opinions on this topic.

Stephanie Barr talked about her experiences. “In my first novel, I had a lot of dark and I didn’t sugarcoat it or excuse it or make it okay. I have a good person do something heinous. It was so dark, my then husband objected strenuously, but in the end, I kept it because it happens. And people for whom it happens need to know you can survive it, to let them know I believe them. I think this is particularly important for women–their stories and experiences are often dismissed as overblown or imaginary.”

“Ironically, when I read my last novel (Dracul Morsus) to my now ex, he told me I needed more dark in it. Sometimes, you need to understand the dark, see it up close and personal, to understand how (a) tough people are and (b) how brutal people can be often for what seems like minor reasons. It’s the belief that the worst can’t happen that allows folks like Hitler to prevail and do great harm.”

“I am not opposed to showing the bad things in graphic detail, I am somewhat concerned if I give too much detail I am cutting out the reader’s imagination. I want each reader to have a somewhat different experience when they read my books. Some details I leave up to the imagination, others I give more direction.”

Greg Alldredge shared his thoughts with me. “I try to use language appropriate to the situation. During a scene in my upcoming book Pretty Waiter Girls, a police detective is examining the body of a dismembered woman. I use more detailed, clinical descriptions, I envisioned a policeman would use to distance themselves from the grisly scene. Later in the book, someone dies in a most horrific way, I hopefully use just enough detail to lead the readers in the correct direction while trying to instill the horror the lead character is experiencing.”

“I go back to the horror and suspense I enjoyed growing up, either books or film. I try to hold back, giving the reader just enough to let their imagination run away. I think readers are smart enough not to be spoon-fed every detail.”

I personally feel very protective of the audience, I don’t want to share the ugliness the world holds. In my writing, I want to entertain the reader, without bumming them out. I don’t want to give them images that will stay with them that are negative. So, I guess there are different styles and approaches to this question.


Stephanie Barr:

Greg Alldredge:

S. A. Gibson:


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