Insulting the Reader

by Jeanne Marie Leach

As an editor, I see authors who have learned the big lessons, such as plotting, characterizations, and dialogue, but they neglect a couple of the “smaller” lessons we need to be aware of.

Over-explanation that insults the reader

It is important to remember readers have brains and can figure things out for themselves.

Example #1: “I don’t understand why you said that to me,” Margie said, confused.

First, the reader discovers Margie doesn’t understand why someone said something to her, and then the author decides to make sure they understand she is confused. That’s not necessary, as her confusion is already demonstrated in her dialogue. Leave out “confused.” The reader is smart enough to get the confusion without the author having to tell her of it.

Example#2: Margie stared in disbelief at the gold watch lying on the counter in Brad’s kitchen. The second hand ticked across the scratched, white face. “Oh my! It’s the same watch Emily wore to church on Sunday!” Margie became upset because this meant Emily must have been in Brad’s kitchen sometime since Sunday evening.

The last sentence insults the reader’s intelligence because this is something they will have already figured out by themselves, based on the clues already given them. The author is basically hitting the reader over the head saying, “Don’t you get it? Emily’s watch is in Brad’s kitchen, and it wasn’t there Sunday afternoon. That means Emily has been there. This is important and you need to get this.”

In the above example, delete the last sentence.

Too much preaching in Christian novels

The faith message needs to be woven into the entire story through the character’s actions and dialogue. If the writer’s message is one of hope, then it’s not a good idea to hit people over the head with it, but rather show hope through a strong character of faith, who never gives up hope in the face of danger.

It is not a good idea to use actual sermons in a Christian fiction book. Often, authors will have a character go to church and hear a sermon that changes the person’s heart and/or mind. This can have several negative effects. It could be a turn-off for the reader, who feels if they wanted to be “preached at” they would go to church. People tend to simply skim over these sermons because they slow down the story for the reader. This means the message is often never read. Reading actual sermons can be boring for the person looking for a story.

There are times when a character will give a mini-sermon to another character, and again that can be a turn-off just as it often is in real life, so keep it short.

People often learn more about Christianity in our day-to-day lives by our actions. After all, every one of us have sinned and come short of the glory of God. Paul said that which I say I don’t do, I do. The world is watching us. A sermon has its place. But especially today when God is being kicked out of public life, people don’t care what we SAY, but they will watch everything we DO. This is why preachiness in fiction doesn’t work. They are reading fiction to be entertained, but if they learn a biblical life lesson through how the characters act in the midst of turmoil and sin, they will better understand the precepts of the Bible—the living, breathing Word of God by which we live our lives.

Remember, Jesus used parables to get his point across. He also quoted scripture, but usually only a verse at a time. We too can use this technique to reach others for the kingdom.


Jeanne Marie Leach

Author * Speaker * Freelance Fiction Editor * Writing Coach

Jeanne Marie Leach is a multi-published author, freelance editor, speaker, and writing coach. The 46th member to join the ACFW, she judges the Genesis Contest and the Carol Awards and is the moderator of the Novel Track group. Jeanne teaches six months of classes on editing fiction through the Christian PEN: Proofreaders and Editor’s Network. She loves mentoring and coaching beginning writers, and in the past seven years, she has helped six people who have gone on to win Christian writing awards. Visit Jeanne’s website at:

Be Sociable, Share!