This is awesome skimming. This isn’t what I’m talking about.
For an author, reader skimming is a death knell. It immediately precedes putting the book down and not picking it back up. The reader may not even be able to tell you why they’re not engaged, just that they aren’t.
You can write the perfect plot, use gorgeous prose, create quirky, amazing characters – and all that hard work can be negated by habits that irritate the reader.
Don’t DO that!
Here are a few of my pet peeves, with examples.
- Character thoughts –
Done right, thoughts are great ways to deepen the reader’s understanding of the character – it hints at backstory, without dumping it. It can raise questions in the reader’s mind that they have to read on to discover the answer to.
What doesn’t work, is the author telling us what we already know, or could guess. That is boring, and invites skimming.
“Sheila here told me the other day that I should vote, irregardless.”
Steve waits until his ivy league buds stop laughing, and throws an arm over my shoulder “She’s blonde, but I love her.”
I shrug out from under his arm, give him a death stare, then stalk off, knowing he won’t follow.
What a jerk.
From the above, we know this guy is a jerk. What we don’t know is why she’s with a guy who thinks so little of her.
What if you add:
I shrug out from under his arm, give him a death stare, then stalk off. If I want to be put down, I’ll call my dad–he’d make Steve look like an amateur, even if he did go to Harvard. Why did I say yes to more of the same? And why has this never occurred to me before?
- He said/she said – ‘said’ in general
I know, people say that word is invisible. It’s not. It’s like Chinese water torture to me, and if the book isn’t over-the-top engaging, I’ll put it down. Besides, you’re missing an opportunity to make your writing denser – meatier, by making your words to double-duty.
Random example (from my WIP)
I don’t believe in ghosts . . . at least I didn’t in Dallas. But out here? Anything’s possible. “Grandpa? I’m your new granddaughter-in-law, Lacey.” My voice comes out whispery, uneasy. “I love Luke very much and I hope you’re okay with us living here.”
“I’ll try to take good care of your cabin. But this isn’t exactly in my wheelhouse, so if you’re there and in a position to help out now and again, I wouldn’t be averse to—”
My feet leave the floor and my heart tries to beat its way out of my rib cage. “Holy crap, you scared two years off my life!”
Luke steps in the room. “I see you found Grandpa’s bedroom. Who’re you talking to?”
“Myself. I think.” A welcome heat flushes my face. “Please tell me you got the heat going.”
“Good thing you married a rancher’s kid. I learned young to fix anything with bubblegum and duct tape.”
Not a ‘said’ anywhere. Instead it shows how things are said, movement, attitude. See how that’s meatier?
- Characters who ‘get it’ too late
Readers are smart. They’re looking for clues in every word. they get it waaaay earlier than you think they do. So if you go on too long, your character will come off as TSTL (too stupid to live). And if that’s true, skimming is the best you can hope for. You’re not going to see that fine line – trust your critters (critique partners) to show you.
- What’s in a name? And why use them so often?
This is another that wears on me. Think about it. If you’re talking to someone, how often do you use their name in conversation?
“Well Doug, I don’t know. Maybe she just thought–“
“No, Leo, I was specific.”
Doesn’t read like real dialogue, right? The ONLY reason to use a name is at the beginning, so the reader knows who is in the scene, and to clue the reader who is speaking, in multiple-character scenes. That is IT.
Also, names. I understand if I’m reading a book set in a different country, names aren’t going to be familiar. But even then, try to choose one that isn’t hard to pronounce. (I still stumble over Hermione, every time). For a reader to get to know a character, they have to be able to say the name in their head as they read. Also, keep last names short. Not only because it’s wearying to the reader, but for you – you have to type it a zillion times!
- It’s just too hard – maps/too many characters/confusing
I’ve put down books because the opening scene has too many characters. I’m trying to figure out who is the most important, who the protagonist is, when I don’t care about any of them yet. If it goes on too long, I’ll give up.
If your setting is foreign, or made up, you have a bigger job to world build. If you want me to feel at home, I have to settle into and understand your world…all without slowing the read. Yeah, there’s a reason I don’t write historical, Sci-fi, fantasy, etc.
Maps. I know everyone doesn’t have this issue, but I sure do. If there’s a map in the front of the book, I usually won’t buy it. Because it’s just too hard to figure out, or because I want to make that up in my head as I go along.
It just occurred to me that I’ve told you not to say things the reader would guess, and not to confuse them by not telling enough – all in one blog.
But you knew this writer gig wasn’t easy, right?
I ran across a great blog from someone who polled readers & reviewers to see what would make them put down a book – here’s the article, and below is the graphic: (Click to make it readable)
Those are a few example of what will make me skim. What are yours?