What is a reader thinking when he or she reads your work? We all experience an inner dialogue about the world around us. During reading it’s the same: consuming words wakes up the voices in our heads. What we really want is for our readers to be asking the right questions. Things like ‘what happens next?’ and the all-important, ‘how will this end?’.
Questions make us turn the page. As an author, it’s your job to build in hints, clues, suggestions and unresolved matters to provoke this response. Here are five questions, though, that you don’t want your readers asking.
1) When will this end?
Have you ever been reading and think “This chapter is just running too long, it should have ended five paragraphs ago?” You flip the pages and see there are two more. Do you skip ahead? Authors must stoke the fires of action and meaning. If the flame dies out the story goes cold.
Wishing a part of the story would end is a symptom of the information fuel gauge dipping too low. The action is missing. The material is repetitive. It’s dull. No matter, the reason, this is text to chop or enrich.
2) Did I miss something?
You know when you read something, and it makes you turn back to see if you missed something crucial? This could be because you were distracted, but more likely, it’s because the author didn’t place enough emphasis on something you should have ‘learned’ previously. Or, it’s an actual mistake and there is a gap in consistency. This is expected in drafts, but is shocking in a book off the shelf.
3) What is going on?
You know when you are skating along at top speed, and you suddenly realize you no longer have any idea what is going on? Again, this could be you being distracted. Maybe your mind filled with other things, but this is also a bad sign.
Maybe the author has failed to take you along. Perhaps there was a big jump in setting, or events or the characters on the page. Maybe you just weren’t settled in well enough.
Worse, the story is confusing, and you’re lost because you’ve reached a point where what you thought you knew is no longer guiding you. Authors must be consistent and build stories based on what readers have already been told. When the story goes in a new direction, it’ll be all-the-more exciting.
4) Where is this headed?
Readers want to have a sense of where things are going. They can be delighted to find out they are wrong when you throw in the next twist, but they don’t want to be in the dark. Readers want to be guessing, pondering, wondering.
Readers can also feel out of the loop if you suddenly break with genre expectations or switch genres. If you start with a romance and end with a Western, readers might scratch their heads. If readers start out thinking this is a traditional romance, and you switch it to a thriller where they both die, you’ll certainly upset a reader waiting for the ‘Happily Ever After’ (HEA).
Many of the biggest ‘fails’ in books that people otherwise like, are when something jarring is added. For example, if you think a book world is completely grounded in reality, but then a few chapters of ‘supernatural’ are thrown it, is just doesn’t feel right.
5) Did the author think this through?
You always want readers to think you thought purposefully about every word, every idea in your book. You aren’t trying to waste their time, after all. “Is that possible? Is this scenario realistic? Could that work?” If your readers start popping such questions, they are big hints your reader risks reversing their suspension of disbelief. You want readers to swallow every word, regardless of fantabulous-ness, because it seems readily possible in your story world.
Dawn Field loves to read fiction and non-fiction, especially in draft form, and to try to understand what makes great writing and how writers tick. She can be contacted at her gmail account ‘fiedawn’.