give your readers some credit

I like to think of this as a basic commandment: never underestimate your readers; treat them with respect, and they’ll hang with you.

That means, in part, that you don’t shove things in their faces. Let them watch the characters act and interact, and if you’ve done your job right, they will figure the important stuff out for themselves.

Maria Capstone was 87 but she was still sharp as a tack.

Boring, and a cliche, too. Try this:

In the ten seconds the Maguires spent wondering if they should offer to help the dignified old lady with her groceries, Mrs. Capstone had already hatched a plan to separate the newlyweds from their savings.


She liked to gamble.

Maria Capstone could get a craps game going in a nunnery.

As you may well have figured out by now, this is the same old “show don’t tell” thing you’ll hear every writing teacher spout. Because like most cliches, it’s true. So you give it a try with this boring, empty sentence.

Mr. Mahoney was very rich.

Empty words, wasted words. Let the reader see Mahoney being his priviledged, clueless self. Try it here: