How to Be as Smart as Your Readers

Writers are generally pretty savvy people. We know how to string sentences together, we know how to use punctuation properly, and we can spout off lots of big words. But we can’t let this presumed savviness go to our heads, because readers are also very smart people.

Readers know when we’re hoodwinking them with pseudo-facts—and they won’t think very highly of us for it. Most of us realize this and work hard to research our stories and present the facts correctly and realistically. When we don’t know something, we look it up. But there’s a pitfall here.

Sometimes we think we know a fact, so, of course, why bother to look it up? But that’s dangerous.

Case in point: Most people have a certain pile of “facts” stocked up about horses from watching movies and reading books, so they don’t always think about double-checking their equestrian scenes. For example, a fantasy novel featured a society that used horses as their main transportation, but—as someone who grew up around horses and working cattle ranches—I can tell you the author didn’t check her facts. She had horses preferring leaves to grass, riders able to mount only on the left side (which is the “correct” side on which to mount, but not because, as implied, the right side is impossible), and at one point she explained that “lope” and “canter”—two words describing essentially the same gait—were in fact different things.

I’m certain this author had no idea she was committing these gaffes, and I’m certain of this because I’ve made similar oversights in my own first drafts. But this is why it’s so important for writers to check and double-check their facts—even the ones we’re already sure of. In the end, pleasing even the most expert among our readers ensures we’ll never be scorned for our lack of knowledge or have our books hurled across the room in frustration.

Wordplayers, tell me your opinions! Have you ever embarrassed yourself by neglecting to double-check a fact? Tell me in the comments!

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About K.M. Weiland | @KMWeiland

K.M. Weiland is the award-winning and internationally-published author of the acclaimed writing guides Outlining Your Novel, Structuring Your Novel, and Creating Character Arcs. A native of western Nebraska, she writes historical and fantasy novels and mentors authors on her award-winning website Helping Writers Become Authors.


  1. Great point K.M.! I loved this post. You know, double checking your facts and then using the wrong “fact” on purpose is also a great way to throw off your very smart readers. If that wrong “fact” is actually placed their on purpose because it is a clue to a mystery that will revealed later, what will happen is that your reader will take note of this wrong fact, thinking the author was just being careless, and than later applaud your cleverness because they will find out you were really one step ahead of you all along. Keep the great posts coming!

  2. As a reader (or viewer) I’ve definitely reacted in exactly that way to wrong facts. Good point.

  3. “Ignorance is not a good thing.”
    — Xi the Dragon, The Dragon Universe

    When I first entered my IT career, I received the assignment of performing maintenance on some of the worst written computer programs in history. From working on that computer code, I learned “how not to program!” That lesson was priceless because the agony turned me into a better programmer.

    As I strive to improve my writing skills, reading poor writing has the same effect — I become a better writer because I learn “how not to write!”

    The book I am currently reading is teaching me many lessons — the book is full of examples of awfulness to avoid in my own work.

    One issue is egregious errors of knowledge and facts. The most recent line encountered was:

    “The beast may take some time bleeding to death, but no amount of white blood cells will be able to plug the hole this creates.”

    White blood cells do not clot blood; clotting is the job of platelets!

    I keep telling myself, “Keep reading, keep reading, I need to learn these lessons.”

  4. Perfect example! The author who wrote that probably didn’t give his statement a second thought. He didn’t deliberately fail to check the fact and think, Oh, nobody will know the difference. He probably just wrote it and went rolling right along, blissfully unaware that you would spot the mistake and think less of the book as a result.

  5. Ohhhh, this reminds me of a book I read last month where the characters live in Arlington, WA, but the author mistakenly referred to the sun setting behind the Cascade mountains. The quip about the rain was spot-on though. For the most part.

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