Monday, August 23, 2010

Five Ways To Lose Your Readers

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Want to lose your reading audience? Of course not. Yet, readers make mistakes and do just that. I’ve listed five of many blunders that are guaranteed to cause you either to lose your readers or put them to sleep.

1. Interfere with the story.

I don’t believe anything is worse than an author who interrupts the story. Some feel a desire to stress how intelligent they are by adding additional, unnecessary content to the story. All that does is scream ‘Author! Author!’ It’s nothing more than the writer showing off.  And it’s patronizing. Think of it as telling a joke and stopping before the punch line to explain more because you assume your listeners aren’t intelligent enough to get it. 

2. Create unbelievable characters.

Make your characters look, speak and behave like the characters of another, or many other novels. You know, cardboard or cookie-cutter style.  That will either put the reader to sleep or cause him to toss the book across the room. It sounds like writing 101, however, I’m sure you tell me of many books you’ve tossed for that exact reason. It’s almost as though the author is trying to recreate a popular character with whom readers are already acquainted.

3. Forget about pace.

Who needs to bother with pacing a novel anyway? Let it go where it goes.  You know, stream-of-consciousness. They’ll follow along, right?

Wrong!  Pace is vital to a novel.  Compare pacing to horseracing. According to William Noble in Conflict, Action And Suspense, “The key to good pacing is to recognize that there are moments of acceleration and deceleration in every horse race…in every story.”

4. Leave out conflict and suspense.

Leave out opposing characters, arguments between them, and the sense that something is about to happen, and you’ve lost what could’ve been faithful readers. If you don’t develop a sense of impending doom or have the forces of nature interfere with the story, you have no conflict or suspense.  Your characters must ask questions, search for answers, and stumble upon obstacles (or bodies). And consider having your chapters end with cliff-hangers. That makes it almost impossible for the reader to put the book down.

5. Finally, don’t give your characters any goals to achieve or secrets to keep.

Throughout the story your main character should desire something. There should be something vital at stake, or an important decision to make. Develop a sense that she could lose what’s most important to her if she makes the wrong choice. Maybe give her a shady past, or a skeleton or two in the closet. If so, she would have secrets and that would heighten your story.

What other ways can you think of to lose readers? What blunders have you made?  I’d love to read your responses.

Also, Carol Riggs has an exciting new young adult novel titled: Junction 2020 available Check it out!


  1. Hi Mary!
    Thanks for listing my blog post for my book giveaway. Not many people have signed up (yet) so everyone has a really good chance to WIN! The deadline is September 7.

    And good post reminders here, about conflict, pacing, and making sure characters have goals (oh yeah! goals!). Necessary items to review. It's easy to get caught up in the story and forget some of these things.

  2. Carol,
    It is easy to forget some of the necessary items that make a story a story. I have a sheet with the items listed to make sure I don't leave them out!
    Can't wait to learn the results of your book giveaway contest.

  3. M.J. GREAT post. I totally agree with all of them! I concur about #1. I hate it when the author stops the story to almost ask me a question or make a comment as if she/he is addressing me personally. It stops the flow and it is patronizing.

    So true about conflict, secrets and pacing, too. Can't have enough. I need to work on making my chapter endings have more cliff hangers. Thanks for the tip on that.

    P.S. I'll send your link to all the sleuths at Sleuths Ink. Hope they check this out.

  4. Thank you M.J.
    Just one Sleuth, Checking in.

  5. Beth,
    Great hearing from you. I'm thrilled you liked the post and I appreciate the link. I'll be happy to accept any tips you can send. I hope all is well with you and your family.