Tuesday, June 23, 2015

Don't Put Your Readers to Sleep

By R.J. Harlick

Sometimes you become so interested in the research for your book that it takes over the story. What do you do to keep it from becoming a treatise that only serves to make your readers’ eyes close with boredom? 

Even though I write fiction it is important that the story be credible. So I, like most of my fellow fiction authors, want to ensure that anything that occurs in real life is reflected as accurately as possible, like police procedures, actual places, methods of killing, characters’ accents and so on and so forth. 

You can’t have the Lincoln Memorial standing next to the Eiffel Tower or a Texan speaking with a Russian accent, unless of course, you are wanting to make a statement. Readers will pick up on these errors and judge your book accordingly.

I remember one French writer, who will go unnamed, who situated one of their books in Canada. Unfortunately they didn’t do their research and placed the national headquarters of the Royal Canadian Mounted Police in Gatineau, Quebec and not across the river in Ottawa where it is actually located. Needless to say this didn’t endear the writer to Canadian readers.

To avoid a similar mistake, I check out anything I’m not completely sure about. But I will admit occasionally it runs away with me, particularly when I’m delving into a topic that really captures my interest. When it does, I want to include as much information as I can in my story. I figure if it intrigues me, it will intrigue my readers too.

Unh-unh. It doesn’t work that way. Usually I will realize this as I am going through the revisions, because too much information stops the forward action of the story. But if not, my critiquers will red pen it or my editors will tell me to tone it down. 

The challenge is to come up with the right balance: enough information to give your story credibility and depth yet doesn’t put your readers to sleep.

Using different methods to convey this information also helps to keep your readers awake. It doesn’t need to be written in long ponderous paragraphs, but can be revealed through your characters’ actions and dialogue. 

Have you ever noticed how TV shows convey needed information? Rather than one character recounting the entire information in one long boring speech, several will provide parts of it as if they were carrying on a conversation. It helps to maintain the pace of the show.

Happy belated summer solstice, everyone. I hoped you enjoyed it appropriately.


Art Taylor said...

Great points here--both about the need for solid research (get it right!) and the need not to put too much of it into your work. Thanks!

Paul D. Marks said...

The Lincoln Memorial's not next to the Eiffel Tower? Damn! Time to rewrite.

Great piece, Robin.

Meredith Cole said...

Great advice on putting the details in dialogue and action rather than description, Robin. Anything to keep our readers turning pages and staying awake!

RJ Harlick said...

Thanks, Art and Paul. And Meredith, I'm all for keeping my readers awake. I've been blamed by more than one fan for keeping them up all night. :)