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HOW TO LOSE YOUR READER

April 2, 2014

Narrative. The backbone of every story. Without it, a novel would be nothing but dialogue.

Narrative provides action, background, story movement and more, or it should. When the narrative bogs down, the mind drifts.

Case in point, a novel I’m currently reading. It’s a fascinating story, to a point. The author either knows his stuff about quantum mechanics (and other scientific theories I can’t even describe), or he has a flair for bull unparalleled in literature. I suspect the latter.

ENOUGH IS ENOUGH

My issue is that from the beginning of this story, he’s tended toward long passages of narrative (as told in dialogue, but to me, it’s still narrative) about scientific principles that are way above my head. I don’t profess to be a complete dummy, but my eyes glazed over for a good third of the book. What’s worse, the protagonist becomes a prisoner. After being tortured, he finds out what kind of prison he’s in during protracted conversations with other prisoners. You guessed it: they rattle off one scientific principal after another. Eyes glaze over again.

I don’t mind reading or even learning something new in my fiction, but geez, don’t overwhelm me with stuff way beyond-beyond, even if it’s not that far from reality. If this guy thought it up, I’m sure he did the research. That means he based it on science fact so he wouldn’t get called on it. Unfortunately, that leaves the average reader in the dust.

Do you enjoy reading through page after page of scientific gobblety gook?

I’ve reached a point where the action is finally overwhelming the jargon. That jargon is used extensively in the tech tools employed by the bad guys, so I see the author’s point. I’m enjoying this story, but I had to slog through a lot of techno-babble to get to that enjoyment. I shouldn’t have to do that. If the author had parsed his science babble out a little less, the read would be faster and less frustrating.

LEARN TO SENSE LIMITS

We, as authors have to keep that in mind. I’ve mentioned agendas and fluff and knowing when to cut before. If this author has already done that, I can only imagine what the original manuscript looked like!

The way he’s interconnected the science babble into things, I wonder how thick this book would’ve be with another edit. I’d hate to have him dummy down the story, but I’m sure he could’ve cut out a lot of fluff so minds wouldn’t drift. In fact, I was mentally doing just that as I read.

TRIMMING APPLIES TO ANY GENRE

This principle applies to any subject matter, not just scientific. If your novel takes place in the 1800s and you go off on a tangent about a trapper and tanning specifics, you could lose your reader, especially if the story is about a chase through the wilds. What does tanning have to do with a chase?

You’re writing a romance and you go off on a detailed explanation on cooking a special dish that lasts an entire chapter. What’s that got to do with two star-crossed lovers?

In a murder mystery, the protagonists car breaks down on the way to looking for the suspect, so you go into a detailed scene of him fixing the car. It takes up one or two chapters. Why?

These are more simplistic examples, where in my case, the scientific principles are ingrained into the whole story. But what if in that 1800’s novel, the subject of tanning comes up in every chapter, in detail? Or that special dish gets described with more detail in every chapter between love scenes? Or, after the car breaks down in the mystery, you keep revisiting it with sidebars until the end of the story?

You don’t need to tell the readers more than they need to know, even if you think they’re neat details. That’s your agenda coming through instead of the needs of the story.

If it has a good use, go for it. If it’s just stuff you just think is neat, trash it, unless you can make it a key part of the story!

Happy writing.

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