Soothing the Reader

There is something important to remember and that is that the reader wants you to succeed. The reader of a novel wants nothing more than to forget she is reading. She wants to fall into your fictional world so deeply that it exists as real and fully formed at the world she actually lives in. She wants to experience your character’s emotions. She wants to be transported into story. She wants to close the book when it is over and be haunted by what she has just read. And let’s face it, you want this too.

You may have read that you should never give your reader an opportunity to stop reading, and this advice might be confusing to you. Of course your reader will stop reading. She, like everyone, has a life to attend to. You cannot control that. You cannot pick up her children from school or attend a business meeting for her. Your reader will stop reading, but this is not the same as wanting to stop reading. Nor is it the same as stopping reading because some information has been left out of the narrative and the reader has to stop, even briefly and unconsciously, to supply that missing bit. Put simply your job is to soothe the reader, to massage her mind into receptivity, and you do this by never missing a beat.

Writing is detail work. Writing is organization.

If it rains in your book, then things must be wet. There cannot be pockets of wetness and pockets of dryness, unless there is something allowing the dryness, such as shelter, or a canopy of trees. If the character dishes soup out, there must be a receptacle for that soup – a bowl or a cup. If someone’s eyes are blue on page ten, then they must also be blue on page fifty.

This sounds tedious, and nitpicking, as though I am splitting hairs. I am not splitting hairs. I am telling you that these things matter. Readers are savvy. Of course they can, in their mind, supply a bowl for that soup, but why ask them to do that? Why leave out anything that causes the reader to stop and say to herself, “There must be a bowl.” If you leave enough tiny details out like this, you create a choppy ride for the reader. You create less chance for her to fall into your fictional world, the world she wants to fall into. It’s your job to soothe the reader into a trance.

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2 Responses to Soothing the Reader

  1. Anne says:

    My daughter has been a voracious reader since she was a child. She’s developed this habit I’ve only recently noticed. When she gets consumed by a novel she purposely stops about a quarter of the way to the end.

    Why’d you stop? I ask.
    I don’t want it to end. She says.

    She’ll mull over the story, anticipate the possible conclusions and a day or two later come to the resolution that it’s time and she’ll read the ending. And she almost always says: still don’t want it to end.

    That’s the book I’d like to write.

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