The Insecurity Tell

Excerpt from a book I’m reviewing (names changed to protect the not-so-innocent from social media onslaught):

“I need a drink,” Irene thought to herself. She longed for something to dull the events of the night. “But after Sandra.” She had to ensure her prized heir was alright.

Irene needs a drink after the bad things she’s done. At this point in the story, the reader knows that Sandra is Irene’s young daughter, and Irene did these bad things to protect Sandra. So the line “But after Sandra” says all the reader needs to know. Motherlove comes before the drink.

Then comes the dread Insecurity Tell.

The Tell sticks out like a sore thumb to me because I’ve done it so often myself. I think most writers do it when they’re starting out—at least, I’ve seen it a lot in critique groups.

Let’s chew on the psychology.

One reason for the Tell is the writer is insecure, so goes belt-and-suspenders: Just in case I didn’t make it clear, let me just tell reader what I hoped they’d get out of my prose.

The other reason is, I think, the need for control. The writer has not yet integrated the idea that the words on the page are a passageway from the writer’s mind to the reader’s mind. The scent of a spring breeze is different for each person. Unless the writer wants to digress for a paragraph on the subject of organic esters, he has to leave the exact combination of air-wafted odors to the mind of the reader. Obvious, right?

Not so obvious with complex emotions, though. I suspect the implied motherlove in the quote above is different to each reader, too, for the same reason as the spring breeze: experience.

When I was first writing, I often wanted to exercise ironclad control over the passageway between me and the reader. Trouble is, the Insecurity Tell is mildly insulting. says, “I knew that!” It’s not a big issue, but it is a speed bump in the stream of attention the reader gives the prose. The greater problem: it adds unnecessary words.

Your thoughts?

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