Last Saturday morning, I asked 8-year-old S if he would take a look at a few paragraphs of back matter for The Day-Glo Brothers.
Over the past few months, and increasingly in the past couple of weeks, my editor and I had been swapping revisions of the sections explaining the basics of light, color, fluorescence, and daylight fluorescence. Having addressed my editor’s latest comment, I wanted S to confirm that everything was now perfect.
“Dad, I found a mistake,” he announced, puncturing my smugness as I ate my breakfast. “You didn’t mention infrared.”
This was true. I had deliberately left out any reference to the band of energy on the other side of the visible spectrum from ultraviolet. No need to confuse readers by bringing up a scientific term not pertinent to the story.
But I realized I was wrong. Not about the impertinence of infrared (yes, I know there is such a thing as infrared fluorescence, but it’s still not relevant), but about the danger of confusing readers. If they can find my book, they can find a dictionary, so I really shouldn’t worry about readers not being familiar with “infrared.”
The bigger danger is in distracting — or alienating altogether — those readers who know there’s such a thing as infrared and get an itchy feeling by seeing a description of the visible spectrum and UV … but … no … mention … of … what’s … right … next … to … red.
“This guy doesn’t know what he’s talking about,” I could imagine some young reader saying. Obviously, I don’t want that. So, I added a reference to infrared, and thanked S for his help. Today, my editor e-mailed to thank him as well.
Without thinking of it in these terms, I’d made a decision to dumb down that text ever so slightly. Here’s to S for inspiring me to smarten it back up.