Saturday, November 5

Skip Ahead to the Good Bits

It’s hard to find a novel you adore. Even our absolute favourites can leave us with some qualms over certain events.

Then there are moments in a story that we wish we could skip over entirely. In fact, we often do. Our eyes glaze over and we start to skim read. We flick through the pages ahead to see how much longer this chapter is or if our favourite character’s name is mentioned again anytime soon.

That has been my experience at least – and it is unfortunately a frequent one. Skip ahead to the good parts, I find myself thinking. If only there were more novels made up of all good bits.

Of course, that matter lies a lot with personal opinion but it also lies in the writing.

If I’m reading a book that I do enjoy, I feel a little guilty about skim reading parts.* After all, imagine if someone skim read something you had written?

“So, what did you think of the epic battle scene at the end?”

“Yeah… I sort of skimmed over that part. Too much description. The rest was good, though.”

There is a high probability that if you write and publish a novel, someone is going to skim read over parts of it. Yes, those same parts that you spent ages on, inflecting awesome into every sentence. It is not a happy chappy thought.

How can you do your best to avoid this from happening?

Balance Dialogue and Description

I have the tendency to indulge in extremes when I’m writing. I either describe things in explicit detail, thinking, This is the most visually vivid scene I have ever written… or I just write nothing but dialogue and forget to mention that my characters aren’t just floating around in space, having a good ol’ chat.

The idea that dialogue is more captivating to the reader is a lie. While blocks of writing that make you wonder, Where did all the paragraphs go? seem daunting and tedious, there are so many occasions where I’m reading a dialogue in a novel and my brain just translates it as, Blah blah blah , shut up.

Balancing description and dialogue can be a problem if your character is alone. Of course, you can always make him talk to himself…but if you don’t want him to appear the complete nutter, then just keep your paragraphs short and pur character into your narrative, instead of just blandly observing the surroundings. Keep things moving. Don’t stop and smell the description.

With dialogue, it’s best not to have characters repeat things the reader already knows. Also, make sure there is some conflict. Your character don’t need to wage war with every conversation but if all they do is agree with each other and say polite things, your reader will be the one wanting to smite them instead.

Keep Things Interesting and Relevant

It doesn't matter if you think clothes shopping is the greatest thing in the world - if there is no benefit to a shopping spree in your story, do not write in a shopping scene. The same goes for over-describing yummy foods. If it is pointless to the plot, the reader will just grow hungry and put your story aside for some real food.

Don't let your story remain at a standstill. You want things to be happening all the time. Even if each event isn't of epic proportions, keep your readers intrigued with new plot developments and they will pay attention.

Monologues and trains of thought are all very well in moderation. In fact, I love a good character monologue and a train of thought is really an internal monologue. It pays not to go overboard, though. Otherwise, you're falling back into the danger zone of endless blocks of text, having your character reflect on everything around them instead of delving into anything new and your story drawing to a standstill.

Would You Skip Over It?

We all love to indulge in our own writing but if you took a step back and read your work as if it were someone else’s, would you want to read this particular part? Even if you think it is the most artistic piece of awesome, it might be the dullest thing to read.

Writers have the urge to skip ahead to the good parts, too. It’s not just readers who feel this way.

I always try to encourage myself to write in chronological order. Why? Simply because if I don't, then I'm going to jump around to my favourite parts in the story and leave the parts I'd otherwise struggle with of find less interesting. If I indulge my desire to write all the bits I find exciting, I'm left with hardly anything written and big gaping holes that are going to be even more horrible to get through.

Of course, if you have a part in your novel that you are itching to write and don't want to lose the inspiration for it, write it now. Try not to only allow yourself to write the moments in your story you are exciting to get to, however. The anticipation of getting to them will drive you through the other parts that you find more sluggish.

Wait, I thought the whole idea was to not write parts that the reader would skip over?

This is very true. After all, if you don't enjoy writing something, why would anyone enjoy reading it? If you catch yourself skim reading a part of your own story, then you definitely have a problem. Regardless, if you are writing a first draft, there are always going to be parts that you have problems with. What you need to so is soldier on through those parts and then develop them in the rewrite.

In my first novel, I despised the antagonist in my rewrite. Sounds ideal, yes? After all, if he is the antagonist and I don't like him, the reader wouldn't like him either and I'd be on the write track!

I wish this were the case. In fact, the reason I didn't like him was because he was dull and shallow and tedious to write, making him boring to read about. Since he was a very important character in my novel, this did not bode well.

Thus, when I rewrote the story, I was determined to make him a character I could fall in love with and appreciate, while still making his role that of the primary antagonist.**

What are some factors that you find cause you to skim read over parts in a novel? How do you best avoid readers skimming your own work?

*If it’s a book I don’t like, I don’t give a toss. It’s wasting my life away. In fact, why am I even still pretending to read it?

**For those who find the idea of a antagonist that the reader can like confusing, see Villains v.s. Antagonists

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

"Don’t stop and smell the description." Love that, so true. I might have to quote that when I crit others, and have it posted on my corkboard for myself. I have to confess, I've never skipped parts of a novel I'm reading. I've sometimes had a roving eye, where I'll be anxious about the tension in the scene and peek to the facing page to see what's happening, but it's always just a glance (usually for a name of a character to see if they've appeared yet) but I always go back to where I left off. I guess I'm too afraid I'd miss something important. If I'm getting bored, I don't skip ahead, I put the book down and pick up another (I've always got several going at once). Sometimes I might pick it back up again, but if I don't, meh. Obviously it didn't grab me enough. But your point's the same: writer's should make sure readers don't feel the urge to skip or set it aside... Great post!