Remember The Reader Target: effective balance of details
By Bev Walton-Porter
The last thing you want to do is bore your reader. Get to the point and hit them early.
Not long ago, I found myself on page 100 of a well-known author’s novel. One-third of the way into the novel, there wasn’t much happening, save for extended descriptions of things and people that didn’t advance the story. The book was supposed to mix suspense and horror, except there wasn’t much of either up to that point in the book.
As a reader, by page 100 I expect something to happen. By page 100, a book’s author is obligated to entertain the reader, not induce sleep! Faced with the quandary of gritting my teeth and finishing the book or pitching the tome into the unfinished pile, I bit my lip and made an agonizing choice.
The end result? I closed the book and never finished reading past page 100. As one bumper sticker reads: "So many books, so little time." That could be amended to: "So many good books, so little time for bad books." After that experience, it occurred to me that I’d learned an important lesson for all writers: Never forget that while you may be writing for yourself, you’re also writing for readers. Without readers, you have no audience. Without an audience, you’ve lost a crucial element in the writing/publishing process.
As a freelance writer, diversification is my middle name. I’ve penned nonfiction books and fiction books; I’ve written contemporary romance, humour, and horror. One thing I’ve learned along the way is that, while I craft fiction from the mindset of a writer, it’s also important to put myself into the reader’s shoes as well. And as a reader, too much narrative and over-description or narration in fiction kills the story for me every time.
If you’re a fiction writer, remember your readers aren’t stupid. They can – and should – be able to fill in the blanks with their imaginations. While you may want to paint a picture for your readers and show them what each scene looks like externally – including upholstery, furnishings, characters’ dress and knick knacks – remember a little goes a long way. Describing a tapestry down to the last color and texture of fibre may give literary texture to your tale, but is the time you spend on that description advancing the story for your readers? If it’s not, then a laborious exploration of such extraneous minutiae serves as nothing more than filler for your fiction. Your story’s movement and flow should be active, not passive.
Apart from boring your readers, there is also a pace, or rhythm, to fiction. Too much narration will slow down that pace, while too much dialogue is like running a 50-yard dash – it can exhaust the reader. Aim for a balanced combination of narration and dialogue. Be aware of your balance and understand that given the specific needs of your story, on occasion you may have to infuse your fiction with more or less narrative and/or dialogue depending on plot and character circumstances.
Whether you’re crafting fiction or nonfiction, one rule should always remain the same: Don’t bore your readers with unnecessary details! Engage their minds from the beginning of the story, but do so with a compelling combination of narration and dialogue. If you’re writing a fiction story packed with mystery, you’d better deliver a tantalizing hook on the first page. If you’re penning romance, you’d better remember internal conflict and motivation, not just external details and descriptions. Long after readers complete your story, they will remember the mastered plot, expert structure, and realistic characters – not the shade of the draperies or the texture of the sitting-room rugs. Keep readers begging for your next page, not dreading it!
Bev Walton-Porter is a multi-published author, freelance writer and writing instructor. Her work has appeared in numerous publications since she turned full-time writer in 1997. Her latest book is Sun Signs for Writers. She lives in Colorado with her fiancé, two teenagers and four lovely felines.http://www.astrologyforwriters.com/