How To Build Trust In Writing
“All the world is made of faith, and trust, and pixie dust.” ~ J.M. Barrie,
In my first marriage trust was an issue. I trusted my husband’s faithfulness for far too long even though his behavior did nothing to elicit this. Just my nature, I suppose? Or I was just far too naive? On the other hand, he trusted me not at all. I had never done anything to blemish my trustworthiness, but it was blemished all the same. I now realize it was him projecting his own guilt onto me.
My current (and LAST) husband trusts me implicitly. His trust has allowed me the opportunity to truly be myself. I don’t feel pressured to avoid eye contact or carefully consider any and every verbal exchange I have with other human beings. He is in competition with no one and he knows it. Having someone’s trust is a wonderful, freeing feeling. Mostly.
Here’s the thing, though. After 15 years with someone who is the opposite, I find I am conditioned to feel certain ways and mostly, without cause. Over the last few years, I have started to identify my triggers and conditioned responses so I can work on them. (Luckily, Shawn is SUPER understanding, otherwise, I would quite often come across neurotic.)
If he comes home aggravated from work I jump up and busy myself cleaning something. This is a conditioned response. To minimize any one thing that could trigger my husband to direct his anger at me. He doesn’t, and I know he won’t, but I can’t help it. But, I digress.
My husband trusts me. And he has every reason to. I know it and he does as well. Even still, I always feel this residual guilt. Like, what if today is the day he decides he has given me too much freedom and I probably misused it? I know it is irrational. But there it is.
What does trust have to do with writing?
When writing characters, hell when writing period, trust is IMPORTANT. A reader must have a level of trust with the author. And a reader establishes a sense of trust or mistrust with the characters. And the characters must have realistic trust within their relationships with each other.
So, once again we make the connection between life and writing. Trust is the foundation of any and every relationship, real or fictional. And mistrust helps to pivot a plot forward.
How do you build trust with readers?
Honesty: Don’t lie to your reader. Don’t say, “Paul is not Sally’s father.” And then reveal that he is. You can give your reader lots of possible reasons that Paul could not be Sally’s father. Suspend their belief. But you do not want to contradict absolute statements. You will lose your reader’s trust and, by proxy, your reader.
Authority: Know your facts. If you are going to include a detail, scene or action that could be researched and verified then you better have it on point. If you try to bullshit your way through facts because you think no one will notice, they will and they will call you on it. Research careers, religion, weaponry, the proper way to stitch a wound or dispose of a body. Don’t guess. Don’t make it up unless you can support it within your worldbuilding.
Consistency: This is a world building issue. When you create a new world, people, or a universe you are in charge. This is your vision, your rules. But…even you must follow your own rules. Keep your setting consistent, your characters behaviors and mannerisms, and other concepts that are unique to your world, such as magic or a lack thereof.
How do you build trust between readers and characters?
Developed Characters: This first thing a reader looks for is a character to connect to, someone to invest in so they care about the story. You can have amazing detail, a fantastic setting in a rich world but if your characters fall flat the entire story implodes. That’s not to say you must drop each and every detail about a character into the story, but you should know. You should know your characters inside and out, their motives and their history. When you know these things they will bleed into your writing.
Breadcrumbs: You need your reader to either trust or distrust each character in order to suspend believability and keep them vested. While you may not want to give away motivations or truths right away there should be breadcrumbs. Those little details that, in retrospect, make your reader say “Aha!”
Emotion and Reaction: Your character’s emotions and reactions should be consistent with their personalities. You can read more about writing emotion in characters here.
How do you build (dis)trust between characters?
Loyalty: Everyone is loyal to someone, something, or some cause. Build on that loyalty and make it evident among the characters. Even you villain is loyal to something. Make it tangible and build that trust. Let them trust your villain’s loyalty will drive your hero to the edge of destruction. Build our trust that the hero will somehow, someway make it. Or not…
Dependability: There are times when you want to surprise the reader and there are times when you want them to just know what to expect. Your hero is dependable, you know he will do everything in his power to be the hero, whether he is successful is not the question. He will try. The same goes for your villain or any other significant character.
High Stakes: Many a relationship is solidified through fear, danger, and adventure. Put your characters in situations that force them to really prove themselves and to depend on each other. This doesn’t mean you must follow typical tropes such as saving a damsel in distress or rescuing the princess from a dragon. Turn up the heat, make your characters depend on teamwork and problem solving together.
Remember, trust is the foundation of any relationship, fictional or not.
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Until next time, scribe happy and stay sassy!