Writing Journal – Reader Fatigue


That moment.

After reading my first finished novel, my little brother took me out to lunch to tell me what he thought about it.  He pointed out a few gun mistakes I had made, complimented my antagonist, and was both helpful and encouraging.  But, the thing which stands out the most about our lunch was when he pointed down at a specific page, and said, “This is where I got tired of Sophie crying”.

He could point to the exact moment when he got tired of her crying.  He could say at the exact sentence he wanted to just howl with reader frustration.  Now granted, she has lots to cry about.  Her life is short, dark, and painful.  Crying is pretty normal for her and anyone in the situation she is in.  But.  But!!! But when you’re writing a story, your reader isn’t reading the story in its time context.  Meaning, you don’t pick up a book and read what the characters did in the morning and then set it aside until the next morning.  You read about days, weeks, and sometimes months of their lives in a matter of hours.  The timing is very different than real life.  Part of developing your craft is learning how to not bog the reader down with repetitive actions.  It is very realistic for Sophie to cry a lot, but when you read over and over and over that she’s crying, it gets old. It loses emotional impact.154547_119526121443586_1157083_n

Another element of this is character quirks.  I have a character that runs his hands through his hair when he’s worried, thinking, or stressed.  This leaves him with messy hair most of the time. It’s one of his trademarks. It’s also something that gets carried on in other characters as they mimic him tying the generations of the story together.  But I have to find just the right balance of Benj’ running his hands through his hair and not over doing it and boring the reader.  I need it to be more of a subconscious link than a spoken link.

Recently, I reread my book Happy Thought which is sitting in my computer resting.  Someday I’ll dig it out and start editing it, but right now it needs a break.  As I read it, for enjoyment, not for editing purposes, I realized I had a character constantly pressing her face into the jacket of her friend every time the situation got tense.  And in my books that’s every moment.  I, as the reader, got tired of this repetitive motion.  In real life it happened over hours and days.  As the reader it happened every few minutes.  That moment!  It was at that moment that I got bored with the face in jacket stuff.  When I go back and edit that will be one of the first things I fix.

So, where are your moments?  What are your writer blind spots that a reader finds irritating?  What are your character ticks that might be overdone?  Find an honest alpha/beta reader to help you see where you might be causing reader fatigue.