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My recent writing dilemma - what would you do?

My issue fell between the unwritten rule of show, don't tell, and a passage I recalled from some how to be a writer book or other, which is always to credit your readers with a level of intelligence. So, allow me to set the scene.

Two boys and a girl are cajoled into participating in a pub quiz. The boys are average but the girl is a quiz genius. She has to go to the shop. which closes at 10.00pm, so the boys must fend for themselves during the literature round. The girl returns in time to check their answers, and . . .

She was panting from having hurried back, and she immediately checked our answers. “What’s A Clockwork Orange?” she said.

“The book where you ‘d find Alex and his droogs,” Sporty said.

“Good, and this, George Orwell?”

“Who wrote Homage to Catalonia?”

“Excellent,” Sonia said, “and what on earth is pea pod the answer to?” Sporty looked at the notes he’d scribbled.

“The name of the ship in Moby Dick,” he said. I laughed at his misinterpretation of the answer I had whispered to him. Sonia crossed out our answer and (DILEMMA OCCURS HERE). I told him he needs to have his ears tested.

Right, would you:

A: say that Sonia crossed out the written answer and inserted the correct one, or B: say that Sonia crossed out the written answer and replaced it with Pequod?

Option A leaves the reader to make the connection, while option B is wholly inclusive.

I've completed and uploaded the story, so I came to a decision, but rather than tell which way I went, it would be interesting to read your thoughts  :)


  • I haven't read Moby Dick so didn't know the answer. Not including it would pull me out of the story, wanting to go and find what the answer was. So I would say include it.
    I don't think it's so general a reference that the vast majority would know it (or maybe I'm just ignorant!).
    There is a difference as well between intelligence and knowledge - yes, assume the reader is smart enough for you to not have to spell out the story, but don't assume that they have the same level of factual knowledge as you.
  • Well, I'd go for A with a variation. :)

    Sonia crossed out the written answer and wrote Pequod?

    Sometimes, 'tell' is the most efficient method for certain things. 
  • I'd go with B. I would have no idea of the name of the ship in Moby Dick, heathen that I am!
  • Oh no! Three replies all go with stating the name of the ship, and I left that part to the reader. I think I may have fallen into the trap of getting too close to my subject, as I used to play quiz machines and attend pub quizzes with my brother. The Moby Dick question came up occasionally, so I had it in mind that it was common knowledge. I did a similar thing years ago while compiling a book about Newcastle United (good luck tonight). I had watched and rewatched loads of video footage for material, and mistakedly assumed that everyone reading the book would be up to speed on goals that were scored ten years earlier just like I was. Thanks for your comments - we live and learn :)
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