Detective fiction

I harp on a lot about the importance leaving things unsaid and trusting your reader to work it out. But what does it mean in practice? For me, restraint comes during revisions. And it can be as simple as trimming a sentence. Here’s an example from my novel. A character walks into a coffee shop. 

Original sentence: Grace had taken to sitting with her back to the wall in public places so she couldn’t be surprised from behind.

Edited sentence: Grace had taken to sitting with her back to the wall.

Now the reader has to work out the why. Some might not make the leap but that has to be a risk the writer is willing to take.

Another way to leave things unsaid is to show not tell.

Let’s return to Grace in the coffee shop. A few pages after the line above, this happens:

“A bulky man walked in, shoulders hunched, eyes concealed by a black hood, hands hidden in his pockets. Fear hitched Grace’s chest. The man looked up and waved and a child ran over. When he pulled back his hood and sank to his knees, holding his arms out, his whole demeanour changed. Grace released a breath.”

We force the reader to do a little work because there's something in it for them at the end. Why do people love detective stories and murder mysteries? Because we are endlessly fascinated with working things out. Readers who must connect the dots are naturally more engaged so take a lesson from mystery writers: keep the reader guessing.