Tuesday, August 27, 2013

A Sure Way To Lose Your Readers

Something crossed my mind the other day that I decided to talk about on a blog post. Today's the day. As the quote above tells us, almost all writers have the burning desire to be published. It's the brass ring on the carousel ride for most of us.

One way you are sure to take one step forward and three steps back is to write a whole lot of unnecessary description that end up boring a reader. Many years ago, I attended a Saturday workshop for writers in the area where we lived. Several who gathered in a cozy living room on that cold, winter day were published authors. Others were only wannabe authors, while still others fell halfway between. At one point in the day, we had a read-around. It was a chance to read our work aloud and get the reaction of the group.

Everything was going just fine until one young woman began to read a portion of a novel she was working on. She read many pages. Her audience listened attentively to page one, a bit less so on page two and by page three, many were squirming in their seats, writing in a notebook, staring into space, looking out the window at the snowy scene. In short, she had lost her audience. Completely! And why?

In several pages nothing happened. We learned about the character being hungry and wanting to eat something. The writer meticulously described the room, she took us along as the character rose from her chair, walked across the room and opened the refrigerator door. We went with her as she peered into its cavity looking for something to appease her hunger. We were then made to watch as she closed the fridge door, walked to the kitchen table and placed the lunch meat and mustard on its top. Then, we were taken with her as she went to the breadbox and selected a loaf of bread. On and on it went like this. How it can take several pages of sentences to make a sandwich is a wonder.

The point is that making that sandwich or her hunger had absolutely nothing to do with the story. It had no importance whatsoever. We don't care about the many steps it takes to get up, get the ingredients and make the sandwich. We only care about what is relevant to the story itself. Let the reader assume these mundane parts of the story. Respect your reader's intelligence enough to let them figure out that she rose from her chair and walked to the refrigerator, got the makings of a sandwich etc. If the many steps in making that sandwich had a major bearing on the story, fine, but in this one, it most certainly did not.

What the writer did was to bore her readers (in this case listeners) to the point that they literally tuned her out. Elmore Leonard, the mystery writer who died very recently is often quoted for this sage piece of advice. He said, I try to leave out the parts that people skip. It makes most people laugh, but oh what wisdom it holds.

Forget the mundane, the things that can easily be assumed by the reader, and all things that do not have any bearing on the story.


  1. Great advice, Nancy. Thanks for posting!

  2. Nancy, sage points! I find that when I read my stuff out loud to myself, I find parts that bore me. Guess what, those have to go because surely they would bore my readers, too.

    1. You make a good point about hearing what you have written when you read it aloud. We should all read our work aloud on a regular basis. You can catch ever so many things that way.