I watched a great movie yesterday, but is still wasn’t as good as the book. They never are because they can’t be. I am not exposed to the inner thoughts. I was an outside observer. I wasn’t in the story experiencing it.
Falling down the rabbit role is why we read. Whether we’re curled up on the couch next to a gentle fireplaces or on a crowded bus weaving through downtown traffic. Like Alice, we want to get lost in a new world. We want to fall in so deep that we are a part of the story. Our hearts racing with fear, laughing, crying, falling in love. To feel something more, something different. It is my job as the writer to get the reader there and keep them there.
Anything that threatens to pull the reader out of the story has to be ruthlessly excised from the written page. It cannot be allowed to interfere with the reader’s suspension of reality.
Things that make a difference in the reader’s ability to stay down the rabbit hole:
Flawless Copy – Misspellings, typos, incorrect grammar, all remind the reader that they are reading a book. That they aren’t traveling down the Nile on Cleopatra’s barge. They aren’t floating down the Mississippi with a runaway slave.
Unbelievable Plot Points – The turns and twists of the story have to make sense within the plot. Batman can’t show up in Alice’s Wonderland without some serious explanation. Having Juliet live and hook up with Mercutio would make the reader question everything they had already read. They are no longer in the story but analyzing it.
Poor Word Choice – Using the wrong word, even once, can throw a reader out of the story. A word that makes a twelve year old girl sound like a forty year old business man jogs the reader, making them pause, go back and reread things. Or worse, using a word incorrectly. In the eternal words of Inigo Montoya “I don’t think the word means what you think it means”. Like poor grammar, it reminds the reader they are reading.
Pacing – The right mix of dialog, description, and action is necessary to move the reader along. Too much of any one will make them skim. Making them skip over the story like a rock on surface of a lake. To little will leave them cold and alone, blocked from entering the new world.
Point of View – Head hoping from one character to another within the same scene can be confusing. As always, confusion pushes the reader out. It also makes it harder to care about the characters and the situation. First person and third person close are the best POV’s for holding a reader’s attention. Pick one POV per scene and stick to it. Constantly changing POV makes the story like the Missouri river, a mile wide and an inch deep.
Telling vice Showing – Showing us what is happening allows us to experience it for ourselves. Telling on the other hand is only providing us with information. A reader can’t get lost in information. They get lost in emotion.
Consequences – If the reader doesn’t care what is going to happen next then they are not going to stay in the world. It is by making the reader worry and fret that we entrap them in our world. This is why conflict is so important.
Anything that gets between the reader and the world of the story is wrong and needs to be eliminated. We as writers must strive to find and eliminate these barricades. Hopefully with a lot of practice we will stop erecting them in the first place.