And…. well… the extent of this relationship should be very very little. And this is why…
Readers want to get into a book. They want to see the world, live in it for a few hours… meet the characters, and journey with them into danger and back out again. They don’t want the author’s hand slapped over their eyes, telling them what is going on like a narrator in a children’s movie. I mentioned in my last post about show and tell, how horribly distancing and boring telling can be, and I’m going to stress it again here.
Telling is the act of the author sticking themselves into the novel and summarizing what happened, like a narrator. This is effective in certain places, like huge time gaps. “Four years later” might be more effective than having a whole few chapters on these four years. However, it distances the reader from the novel and circumstances, and should be used sparingly. We want to take a step back and let them experience our written world for themselves, come to their own conclusions, and fall in love with our story.
There is another place where authors can get in the way of readers, and that is in how they write. Authors may sit back where the readers can’t see them, but if their wording is just too frilly or awkward to get by, the reader may be distracted, and unable to focus on the story.
A good example of this, is using words like ‘he decided’ or ‘she thought’ or ‘he saw’. These few words are almost like telling themselves.
Instead of saying ‘He knew it was far to late to be out, but he saw the flickering light and was curious.’
You could use ‘It was far too late to be out, but an unidentified light flickered in the shadows.’ Or something similar.
As you can see, the second sentence in a little more active, and less ‘tell-y’ than the first one.
Another example of this is ‘-ly’ words. Like ‘quickly’, or ‘steadily’, etc. These words clog up the writing flow, and distance the reader. They can be replaced with stronger action verbs.
Instead of saying ‘He walked heavily down the stairs.’ which is quite the mouthful, try: ‘He stomped down the stairs’. This is a more vibrant sentence, and allows the author to step back and the writing to flow again.
When you take a step back from your writing, and spin words carefully so that they do not burden the reader or make them overly aware of your opinions and presence, you’ll find that readers grow more invested in your work. They see it less as words on a page, and more as something that’s actually happening, something that they can relate to, watch, feel, and experience all at once.
And when this happens in a book, I know that this is my reaction… and hopefully it is the reaction of your readers as well. We read to get lost in other worlds, and it is only a skilled author that can step back out of the way and make this happen.
It can be sad, and a little nerve-wracking to put your work out there in the world, and sometimes you just want to stick your nose into your book and shout to the reader that you are there and you are the magnificent creator of this universe, after all, you want them to know that you were friends with your characters first… I know. But in the end, you want your characters to make more friends, you want your writing to be liked and enjoyed by everyone, and the biggest step to getting there, is taking a step back.
It’s a struggle, for sure, but as you learn the tips and tricks of getting there (like avoiding ‘-ly’ words) you’ll find your writing far stronger and more enjoyable to read.
Keep at it and don’t give up!
All the best,