Wednesday, October 03, 2012

Misadventure at the Library

Gotta remember when my next appointment is
because if I have to ask at the office I'll get such
sarcasm in reply.
Our work lives are filled with stories of the inane, the moronic, and the just-plain stupid. Right? The guy who comes in insisting one thing when the opposite is true. Or the woman who says she was told one thing on the phone and that just couldn't possibly be true. Or perhaps the person whose issue could have been solved if he had only read a piece of paper or a sign.

Thing is, these are really frustrating to the folks in any business who have to deal with each angry, confused, or upset person every single day. Here's a story for you about my own recent experience.

I went to the library on a Friday night for the first time in - oh, probably about six or seven years. It was 730 or so in the evening and the doors were open and the lights were on. I breezed in and dodged people going in and out of gallery there inside the door. I was headed in to pick up a book I had on reserve and hadn't been able to get there all week for.

Turns out the library was closed. The gallery was open for the special event and I wasn't going to be able to pick up my book. Sigh.

I asked the security guard what time the library closed. "Six o'clock," he said. And then he pointed and said, "It's on the door." The condescension was palpable.

"Thanks, I can read," I said. It had been a long day and I'd been trying to get to the library all week long so I was feeling a little squirrelly. "That's why I'm at the library."

I turned and left and deliberately read the sign. The library wasn't scheduled to close until 7. Now I was there after 730 so I would have missed getting in, anyway. I knew I'd be lucky if it was open but since the doors were open and the lights were on and it had been six or seven years since I'd been there on a Friday night... well, I guess I wasn't lucky. If there hadn't been a special event I would have encountered closed doors and that would have been it.

But the guard had gotten his time wrong so I turned around and held up seven fingers. "See? I CAN read."

Now I don't hold it against the guard. He's doing his job, keeping the rabble out of the library after it's closed and I'm glad he's doing that. And to be fair, I should have looked to ensure the library was open or closed so I share some blame. But instead of being condescending and pointing at the sign on the door and getting his closing time wrong, he could have just said "Seven o'clock," and been done with it.

See the question I was asking was important to me, which is why I was asking it. He had forgotten, if he's ever been trained on it, that every question is important to the asker. You may work a particular position every day and the answers are obvious to you but remember the asker.

And this relates to writing in the same way. If you can anticipate the reader's questions you'll be writing a satisfying book. As an author you can't point to a sign and say "There it is. You should have read it for yourself."

Nope. It's your responsibility to write it for them to read. Tell everything they want to know to enjoy the story. Some other time we'll talk about the things you can leave out and tease the reader with.