5 ways to close the door on your reader

I like doors. And alleyways, little paths, nooks that look as though I shouldn’t go there. They seem to be private. I take those paths and wander along them, feeling intrepid. And, because I am a law-abiding little soul, not wishing to encroach on someone else’s privacy, when I reach a barrier, I stop. I’m not comfortable enough to plough on through.

Writing can be full of little barriers, things that put you off or tell you this story is not for you. Put it down, put it away. You won’t like it. You don’t like it. Just stop. We stop readers reading it becomes too difficult or uncomfortable for them to continue. I demonstrate with a couple of personal hates of  mine and then a couple which are universally known to push away the reader.

  1. I live in Suffolk, on the East Coast of England, that bump that sticks out into the North Sea, where some of the locals have a charming accent. Norfolk people have a similar accent, but broader. Fascinating to listen too, but unless you want me to give the book before I start, don’t write that accent down. It drives me scatty. Give me a taste, by all means, some little quirk in the speech to let me know this is East Anglia and the guy talking is not an in-comer, but please don’t go for the full-blooded vowel-busting dialect because I cannot be bothered to translate the written gibberish into sensible words, no matter how authentic you think it is.
  2. Different fonts and prints will do it. Small press magazines are sometimes guilty of this. I’m a quick reader, but capitals will stop me in my tracks. Even the great sometimes do it: J. K. Rowling used capitals when Harry was shouting in one of the Harry Potter books and it was unpleasant and like having reading hiccups. I also have a pet hate for italics. I find them a turn-off. Again, can’t be bothered.
  3. Repetition. Readers do not have the attention span of a gnat and it is not normally necessary to tell them something seven times in order to get them to remember it. And if the ‘something’ is a crucial plot point, then it’s not subtle to flag it up continually. Tell us once, maybe give us a gentle reminder later on if you really think we need it and then bowl us over with it at the end.
  4. Passive voice. Newspaper journalists use this a lot. They’re supposed to. It’s called reporting and again it serves to distance the writer from the reader. ‘Twelve nuns were taken hostage by the terrorists’ has much less power than ‘Terrorists have taken 12 nuns hostage’. Keep the verb, the doing bit, active and we all take more notice.
  5. Filtering. Easy to do and I suspect a lot of us are guilty of this. ‘She crossed the room, looked out of the window and saw a black cat was sitting across the road.’ OK, we know what’s going on, but do this too many times and we’ll switch off. If we write ‘She crossed room to the window and spotted the black cat sitting across the road’, it is more immediate, and we see the scene through her eyes. And it’s shorter, less wordy. Things like: it seemed to him, she looked, he felt, she remembered, he saw, these can all get between you and your reader. And you don’t want anything getting into that space. You want your reader to be right there with you, seeing what you want him to see through the character’s eyes.

No barriers then. Leave the door open a little, so I feel welcome, and I’ll stick with you through to the very end.

Happy Writing!



17 responses to “5 ways to close the door on your reader

  1. Yeah, unnecessary be’s, that’s, and was’s are all definitely dangerous.

  2. The next cuppa is on me. See you at the cafe.
    Thank you.

  3. Five very good points. One thing I’d like to point out is that closed doors only keep honest people out. Of course I have no idea how that relates here. :o) Thanks for the pointers.

    • Interesting…. actually very interesting and apt this morning because someone told me to put a copyright notice on my blog, which I have just done.
      Weird, huh?

  4. good pointers, thank you!

  5. Excellent post. May I like it twice? 🙂

  6. I think we do the passive voice thing too much simply because it is so prevalent in journalism and with a blogosphere and small presses in abundance, it was only a matter of time before it would overtake us.

    (passive voice in this comment intentional)

    • Yes, I’m guilty of it too. I don’t notice it as I write and then have to spend ages turning sentences on their heads when I edit. Very annoying.

  7. Very good points here. All of them should be kept in mind while writing, or editing, at the least. Some writers, I admit, do enjoy repeating themselves for the sake of making something known, or helping others to remember it later on. Some writers, I admit, know how to do this well; others would do well to remember such a technique, as it does come in handy at times.

    Thank you for sharing. While writing, I will try to leave the door cracked; just in case you would like to make a bee-line for the bushes; or, the sidewalk, since it’s not barricaded by a personal boundary.

    • Think parts of the post came about because I was reading something where a clue was telegraphed at least a dozen times and then the ending came as no surprise at all.
      Also I hate those tv documentaries where they break for ads and then treat you as though you haven’t been watching the previous ten minutes. Grr!

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