Janet Sumner Johnson
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When We Know Too Much

Jan 12, 2015 Uncategorized 9 comments

Some of you may know that for my day job, I do translation. French to English. An interesting phenomenon I’ve noticed is that sometimes my brain doesn’t register when there is both French and English on a page I’m supposed to translate. I’ll keep typing away, and a couple paragraphs later realize what I’ve done.

In fact, several year ago I was doing some interpretation for a small group. It’s a pretty tricky fete learning to talk and listen at the same time. Anyway, there I was spouting off the English as the speaker continued in French when suddenly they stopped and looked at me. The people I was interpreting for stopped and looked at me.

“You don’t have to translate the English for me. I already understand.”

My brain hadn’t registered when the speaker switched from French to English! Presumably because I understand both languages, and to my brain it’s all the same. I understand it.

Writing can be like this too. When we write a story, we know everything there is to know. We know who the secret bad guy is. We know what terrible things are going to happen. We know how it will all resolve itself. We know.

Which is why it’s sometimes hard to know what is coming across to our reader. The experience is completely different for someone who doesn’t know. Things that may seem obvious to you, aren’t necessarily obvious to your reader. Or perhaps something you wanted to be sure your reader understood is coming across all too loudly for them.

This is why we need beta readers and critique partners. This is why we can’t do this writing thing alone. Sometimes we just need someone to stop us and tell us, “I already understand.”

Do you use beta readers and critique partners?


9 Responses to “When We Know Too Much”

  1. Andrea says:

    I feel like I have the opposite problem at times in that I leave out the key piece of information that I know, making it hard for someone else to follow.

  2. Oh, this is absolutely true! I definitely need beta readers, critique partners, and of course my editor to tell me when something I've written isn't coming across as intended — or if I'm beating them over the head with something obvious.

  3. Good reminders! I definitedly need my critique group to catch things and let me know what is coming through and what isn't.

  4. This is what my agent is referring to when she says, "Give your reader some credit! Don't beat them over the head!" 🙂

  5. Excellent reminder, Janet! I really enjoyed this. Makes me appreciate my betas that much more!

  6. This is so true! I have a working critique group, but I really need to get back to betas. I sometimes need someone to read the whole MS at a time.

  7. Marcia says:

    Yes, I definitely need them. Not only to get feedback on my work, but I learn from giving it, too. I cringe to remember how much I over-wrote when I was first starting out. :X

  8. Yes, that is my problem when writing for children – over explanation.

  9. Love how you pinpointed this common but difficult to identify writing problem with your translation experience!

    Amen for CP's and betas.

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