An editor advised me to get rid of the rhetorical questions in my novel. So I changed them all to declarative statements.
No. He said that wasn’t good enough. I really had to get rid of them.
“But will the reader understand what I’m trying to say?” I asked. After all we were talking about my all-important climax scene. My main character was weighing her options, deciding a question that would set the direction for her life.
“You’re asking the wrong question,” said the editor. “You must trust yourself. And you must trust your reader.”
My rhetorical questions signaled my insecurity—Demon # 164.
To write well, I must believe in myself. Pounding the reader over the head with sentences explaining what I want my reader to “get” is a sure sign that I do not trust my storytelling.
Have I laid the foundation for the reader to understand my character’s predicament? Have I written a story with emotional depth? These are scary questions to face after working years on a novel. But they must be asked.
If I have accomplished these crucial tasks, it does not matter if readers “get” what I’m trying to say. Readers bring their own lives to the novels they read. They get what they need to get.
If I have not done the groundwork, if I have not written a story that thrums with authentic human emotion, no amount of rhetorical questions will do it for me. If I have written a beautiful story that rings with the universal truth of the human experience, rhetorical questions and similar techniques that hammer information like a ten penny nail will confuse, rather than enlighten, the reader.
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