How To Assume Your Reader Is Smart


We writer types aren’t always sure readers know what we’re talking about.

As a result, we can explain things when we don’t need to.

Check out this partial scene:

“Alright, but you have to promise.” Lori held out her pinky. She was making him pinky-swear. Something they had done as kids.

“I promise.” Jaxton held out his finger to lock it with hers. “Pinky-swear.” Humor was his way of dealing with stressful situations, and her comment made him feel a little more at ease.


Kinda telly, and a little repetitious – but aren’t we really spoon feeding the reader here?


We don’t need two explanations of the prior pinkie swear reference.

But… we writer types aren’t always sure readers know what we’re talking about!

There was a scene in a movie, probably Stand By Me, where the kids spat on their palms and rubbed their hands together as a bond. We didn’t do that as kids, but we did something similar. Doing an Indian Swear was a big deal. You had to cut yourself and mix blood as part of the handshake. Usually that was a pin prick. (Heck, usually we were too chicken to do any blood drawing, so we just pretended.)

But nobody stopped the movie to explain what the spit-laden handshake was all about. Viewers got it. My daughter comes home with rituals and phrases she learns from other kids at school. How she acts about it tells me what concern level to give it.

Some readers won’t know what a pinkie swear is, but most readers will.

The ones who don’t, certainly will after they read this; and even if you didn’t say “pinkie swear,” they’d understand it as a kid-like ritual. No need to over-explain.



“Alright, but you have to promise.” Lori held out her pinky.

“I promise.” He held out his little finger to lock it with hers. Their hands moved up and down in unison. “Pinky-swear.”

(Then SHOW him becoming more at ease. Maybe he sighs or nods, then changes the subject.)

But – but – but…

Assume your reader is smart.

It’s okay for not every little thing to be explained in a scene. In Shakespeare In Love, he twirls around and rubs the quill before starting writing. It’s obvious it’s a ritual the second time we see it, but it’s fairly obvious the first time just from how he does it.

Or when the guy throws spaghetti at the wall in The Big Chill. “Still the best way to see if it’s done.”

Oh. That’s all we need.

Let the reader figure some stuff out. They’ll be more immersed in your story as a result.

I actually like it when there’s a little mystery involved in small stuff. I feel like there’s more to the story, and it’s between the characters. Maybe I’ll be allowed into the excusive club if I behave.


Published by Dan Alatorre AUTHOR

USA Today bestselling author Dan Alatorre has 50+ titles published in more than 120 countries and over a dozen languages.

5 thoughts on “How To Assume Your Reader Is Smart

  1. Yes, I always think children should be read the original – Beatrix Potter ( Peter Rabbit ) or A A Milne ( Winnie the Pooh ), not some simplified, banal version. Children learn new words by hearing them. Same with adults, we need to be stretched!

    Liked by 2 people

  2. Another good example of “less is more”, and this comes from a “more” personality! Thanks, Dan, for reminding us of these important fixes for writing habits we need to rein into focus!

    Liked by 1 person

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