Thursday, July 25, 2019

How to Ensure Readers Won't Throw Your Book Across the Room

At our last meeting, my local writing group (shout out to my CityInk storytellers!!) and I were talking about what makes a story unputdownable vs. what makes us not want to finish a book.  And let me tell y'all one thing:

There are some REAL FEELINGS on this subject.

So here's what we came up with. We will DNF (Did Not Finish) a book if:
  • The writing and sentence structure are choppy and don't read well.
  • There are too many plot points and the story gets too complicated.
  • There's an overindulgent death, decision, action, or overuse of language that feels manipulative--like the author is just going for shock value.
  • Characters have no redeeming qualities or do not evolve (their story arc is flat).
  • There's a lack of plot progression, characters stay in their own heads, or there's too much description.
  • Characters do something out of the ordinary and behave in a way that's inconsistent with the person they've been the entire story. 
  • On a high level, if it's not an interesting concept or the concept is executed poorly.
  • Stories that blatantly copy an existing storyline (such as a fairytale retelling) or common trope but don't do it well. 
  • Too much repetition: a piece of dialogue, a character's thought/feeling, or even a description is overused after the author has already driven that point home.

So let's make a pact together as writers.

I, ________________, solemnly swear that I will:

  • Be diligent about re-reading my own work (and especially reading other books in my genre) to make sure my writing not only flows well but reads well. I will even try reading it out loud, as some writers find this to be a good indicator. 
  • As I'm writing or plotting, I will ask myself if each plot point moves the central storyline forward and chop it if it's unnecessary.
  • I will be a good steward of my readers and make sure any character deaths, decisions, and actions are executed (no pun intended) tastefully and won't make them want to stop reading.
  • If my characters are baddies, I will show WHY they are the way that they are and then give them some measure of redemption and growth. 
  • I will make sure each scene serves a purpose to the central storyline and that a good portion of each scene moves that story forward with meaningful action and not too much description or reflection.
  • My characters will remain consistent with the traits I've developed throughout the story. (Unless they have a real-live lobotomy in the middle of the book. Real lobotomies change everything.)
  • Before I start writing, I will make sure my concept/trope is fresh, original, interesting, and that my story does justice to the original if I'm doing a retelling. 
  • As I read through my manuscript, I will ensure I don't repeat the same bit of dialogue, emotion, description, character reaction, or reflection when I've already well established that information. I will trust that my readers are smart and I don't need to tell them again.
Signed, _____________________________

What are some deal-breakers for you in a story? Have you ever walked out of a movie theater or thrown a book across the room in the middle of reading? Our comments are open to allll your thoughts and feelings! 


Laurie Tomlinson is the award-winning contemporary romance author of That’s When I KnewWith No Reservations, and The Long Game, currently featured in the Once Upon a Laugh novella collection. She believes that God’s love is unfailing, anything can be accomplished with a good to-do list, and that life should be celebrated with cupcakes and extra sprinkles.
You can connect with her on her WebsiteFacebook, and Instagram.

1 comment:

Iola said...

The only time I've walked out of a movie theatre halfway through was watching Pet Semetary. But that was because the writing was TOO good and I was too chicken to keep watching. Also, there was a feel-good movie on in the other cinema, so me and my BFF snuck in there.

I mostly read fiction on Kindle, and am too attached to my Kindle to throw it across the room. But there are times I've wanted to ...

My dealbreakers are stupid characters, especially stupid female characters (ladies, we do not have to live up to the blonde stereotype!), and factual inaccuracies. Yes, I know I'm reading fiction, but if the author drops such factual blunders that I'm drawn out of the fictive world, it's hard to draw me back in.