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Readers, really that difficult to please?

Discussion in 'Writing Discussions' started by Amanita, Jan 26, 2013.

  1. Amanita

    Amanita Maester

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    Well, there are many discussions about formal matters of writing around here again.
    There's one thing I'm asking myself though, from the perspective of a reader. Are they really so quick to put down a book because it has too much description, unnecessary uses of the word "said", passive sentences, telling and so on?
    I have to admit that it's not true for me at least. When I read a new book for the first time, I tend to read rather quickly not even taking in all of those finer points. If I reread I do, but that's only with the books where I've liked characters and story enough.
    If there are descriptions which don't interest me when reading the book for the first time, I'm going to skip them. If I decide that I like it, I will read them in detail next time.
    As long as there aren't any glaring errors and an extremely clumsy style, I'm much more interested in characters and subject matter of the book. For me, the main if not only thing to look at if I want to buy a book is what it's about. If the subject matter interests me, I'm going to give it a try, if not than not.

    Maybe I'm alone with this shallow approach to reading, but looking at the bestselling novels like Twilight or Shades of Grey I doubt it.
    For some reason, many bestsellers are doing exactly those "wrong" things that supposedly make readers put down the books.
     
    Ghost likes this.
  2. FatCat

    FatCat Maester

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    I'm in the same boat as you Amanita. Unless a book is terrible to an extreme, I'll finish it. I think that these kind of questions are brought up here because everyone spends so much time focusing on their own style and editing works, and when the differences in style are noticed it's pretty hard to not be critical. Although, I'm probably too lenient in my reading habits, as I've finished the entire Sword of Truth series and even Robert Newcomb's attempt at a fantasy novel. *shivers*

    I don't think readers will be as critical (as you've pointed out with the bestsellers), but as writers I'd imagine that paying close attention to the finer points of style and substance could be nothing less then helpful if done well, and informative if done poorly.
     
  3. Philip Overby

    Philip Overby Staff Article Team

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    I think modern readers have many other distractions in their lives, meaning if a book doesn't keep their attention, they may put it down. I'm not that quick to put a book down for good either, but other readers may be so inclined. There are many different kinds of readers, some falling into multiple camps:

    1. Nothing better to do reader: Someone who reads when they are waiting for something or occupying time (on a public transportation for example). That's why there are book stores in airports, because people are bored on planes and feel like reading something.
    2. Pleasure reader: Someone who reads casual or just for fun. May not be very hard to please as long as the story is engaging or entertaining in some way.
    3. Pleasure+ Reader: These readers read for pleasure, but they want a little bit more. More substance, more engaging characters, better plot lines, excellent writing.
    4. Hardcore Reader: Someone that may or may not read for pleasure, may dissect things like a critic would. These readers may not give certain kinds of books a chance if they don't engage them right away. The style of writing is very important and they notice errors more easily than other readers.

    I think the vast majority of fantasy readers are probably in the Pleasure+ category. I'm probably in that category myself. I very rarely read for educational purposes anymore and I don't critique books (not yet anyway.) I like to enjoy what I read, so I'm a bit more selective and take a long time to finish books sometimes. I often read several books at once, so some are jockeying for my attention.

    Overall, I think if you have a good story with good characters, most readers are going to be forgiving about more minor things such as dialogue tags and the like. This doesn't mean aim lower in your writing, but don't worry so much about the people who will more than likely not like your writing, but focus on the ones that will.
     
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  4. wordwalker

    wordwalker Auror

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    It's a Glass Half-Empty thing... partly. We use the forums to work on the things that worry us --and gripe about people who don't-- but the better the story is at its strengths, the less any weakness matters. But like Phil said, some readers are less forgiving than others (especially on the first page, especially if they're editors), so a little more refinement just might be what keeps another person or two with you.
     
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  5. Steerpike

    Steerpike Felis amatus Moderator

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    I don't think they're that difficult to please on the whole, Amanita. A lot of the minutae we worry about in writing forums are things the reader won't care about. I doubt most readers would ever bat an eye at the use of "said" versus leaving out a dialogue tag, for example. If you can write characters the reader will connect with and care about and tell an engaging story, all of the rest of runs a distant, distant third.

    If you're really bungling things, however, such as not doing description well, or not using "telling" well, or writing passively on accident rather than making an informed choice about when to do it and do it well, then readers may dislike your book without being able to articulate exactly why in terms of the craft of writing (i.e. to them it may just have been boring), but as writers we can see the things that caused the reader to feel this way.

    It's not about doing X or Y, but about doing it well, whichever path you decide to take. Most of the things that seem formal in discussions on writing sites revolve around things that are easy to mess up and make a reader feel bored or disconnected. It is harder to write a story that is mostly telling, for example, and still create and engaging read that hook the reader. There are writers who can do it, however. It is harder to engage the reader with a story told largely in passive voice. There are writers who can do that as well.

    So it seems to me, writing forums tend to be a place of averages. On average, it's better to X than Y, for example. As a writer you should still feel free to do Y.

    Going back to my initial point, however, if you give a reader characters she cares about and an engaging story line, most readers won't fixate on the sorts of things we talk about when it comes to writing formalities. They'll just enjoy the book, no matter how many things it has in it that people on writing forums don't think should be in there :)
     
    Last edited: Jan 26, 2013
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  6. CupofJoe

    CupofJoe Myth Weaver

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    Phil
    Think you've missed the greatest groups of readers...
    0. Those that don't read on a regular basis [if ever] and would usually have to be all but forced to read anything more than a magazine blurb or web article, text or tweet.
    I haven't read her work but from what I have heard about it I am fairly sure this is where most of EL James' readership came from. This is were new media [ebook, web publishing etc.] can expand, the Terra Incognita. Once they are reading on their phone / reader / tablet they will discover for themselves if they are a 1,2,3 or 4.
     
  7. Xaysai

    Xaysai Inkling

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    I look at it this way:

    There are thousands upon thousands of books out there on the shelf I could choose from, but I chose yours.

    What is it about yours that makes me happy with that decision?

    To me, watching a bad movie is better than reading a bad book simply because the movie will be over in 1.5-2 hours, a book is going to take me 10-20x that.
     
  8. WyrdMystic

    WyrdMystic Inkling

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    As one of those of those people who debates those formal questions - I'm not so much worried about what will put the reader off as I am worried about my own writing ability. The debate consolidates knowledge and helps confidence and also cements what you know you want to do and what you think you shouldn't do.

    The other side to that coin - it's also fun and makes you think. It's a good brain excersise that really makes you look below the surface at the same time as giving a much needed distraction at times without drawing you away from the subject of writing altogether.

    At the end of the day - it's the same as any professional forum.

    Also, it depends what method of publication you want to take. I don't know about Twilight but Shades of Grey was self published. I know loads of women who read it because of word of mouth, but noone who actually still liked it once the hype had died down (I know there a lot who do, but I haven't personally met any and I aim to please the circles I travel in - if that makes sense). Strangely, they all liked Twilight and can easily draw the comparison. No offense to the author, who has done a really good job, but I don't want people i know to be left with the same feeling after reading my work.
     
    Last edited: Jan 26, 2013
  9. Steerpike

    Steerpike Felis amatus Moderator

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    WyrdMystic:

    Twilight was traditionally-published, and not only that it got the author a $750,000.00 advance, as a completely unknown, unpublished author. Which means that despite all the things people in writing forums like to nitpick, it not only attracted a tremendous readership, it enticed people who read books for a living, as professional editors and publishers, to fork out three quarters of a million dollars on an unknown quantity. Characters and story-telling. That's where it's at.
     
  10. WyrdMystic

    WyrdMystic Inkling

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    Thanks, but like I said - 'I don't know about Twilight' - it was Shades I was referring to. Thanks for the info though :D
     
  11. Steerpike

    Steerpike Felis amatus Moderator

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    Not me, because I throw the book away or delete it from my Kindle long before that :)
     
  12. Steerpike

    Steerpike Felis amatus Moderator

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    No problem. To me, it is sort of the poster child for the idea that character and story-telling trumps formal writing, if you're going for commercial success (not everyone has that as their primary aim).
     
  13. WyrdMystic

    WyrdMystic Inkling

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    Like Harry Potter its one of those rags to riches stories, but it's real- life so is a great thing to aspire to. Me? I honestly don't know what my aim is beyond writing at the moment. All I know is I want to take the extra time and effort to make is good as I possibly can before putting it out there.....after that, it's not really in my hands anymore and what ever happens happens.
     
  14. T.Allen.Smith

    T.Allen.Smith Staff Moderator

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    If the story is good enough, if I care about the characters & want to see what happens to them, if I'm engrossed & invested in the tale, then I won't mind the writerly details as much. That being said, if there are repetitive problems like lazy description, overuse of telling through a ton of adverbs, things of this nature, I will notice the writing. It will be jarring over time. Noticing the writing pulls me away from the story.

    I try not to read with a writer's hat on (though it's difficult at times). The books that have really grabbed me have things in them (on a 2nd read) that I wouldn't necessarily espouse for my own writing but on the first time through I didn't notice them because I didn't know the conclusion. I was more wrapped up in what was to come...so much so that the writing was not noticed.
     
  15. Kit

    Kit Maester

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    I think that all the little nitpicky things we worry over COMBINE to make the book good or not. I think that the average reader wouldn't bother to- or wouldn't even be ABLE to- identify exactly why they got bored with a book and put it down. We might look at it and go, "Well, it uses passive voice, and too many adjectives, and..." but all the reader knows is that it didn't grip him or her.
     
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  16. wordwalker

    wordwalker Auror

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    Agreed. Let's worry over everything, but not each thing-- um, not figure we need every separate point perfect, or something like that. :confused: And keep working on our strengths at least as much as our weaknesses.
     
  17. Xaysai

    Xaysai Inkling

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    I have a very tough time abandoning a book, and usually choose not to do it until I get at least a few hundred pages into it, but then I feel like I'm invested enough into it to just finish.

    I gave up on Girl With a Dragon Tattoo after about 80 pages and Russell Kirkpatrick's Across the World after about 20.

    Those are the only 2 books I think I've ever just outright stopped reading.
     
  18. BWFoster78

    BWFoster78 Myth Weaver

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    The OP's question brings up a lot of topics. I'd answer, "Depends on your intended audience."

    When I was young, I read a lot of truly horrid stuff and thought it was good. I didn't know any better. The older I get, the more discerning I become.

    Some readers are where I was a long time ago. If you can interest them in a character OR a plot OR with solid writing, you're good. Others require you to have all three in line.

    If you're asking, "Can I be successful by writing crap?" Of course you can!

    I'm not even sure that writing well brings you more likelihood of success than writing crap. I tend to think that it does, but I have no data to back up my opinion.

    My planned path to success is as follows:

    1. Write really good stuff.
    2. Have that stuff professionally edited and published with the best quality that I can afford.
    3. Submit it to every person that I can find who has a blog and hope that it gets noticed.
    4. Go back to step 1 with another book.

    As one of those people with a blog, I gotta say that I'm a reader who notices all that little stuff.
     
  19. Steerpike

    Steerpike Felis amatus Moderator

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    Brian, your post implies, rather strongly, that people who don't read the way you do are behind you as readers and haven't managed to progress past the point that you left behind long ago. That's a pretty condescending and not to mention inaccurate viewpoint, don't you think? One might just as easily argue that being unable to read a work without being hypercritical is a step back, as compared to people who can move between critic and reader as they see fit, or who can find value in different works for different reasons.

    I prefer to simply view readers as having different approaches to reading, each being fine so long as they derive personal enjoyment from it, rather than look at it as "oh, those guys are how I was before I became so advanced and 'discerning.'"

    Or maybe I'm misreading your viewpoint.
     
  20. BWFoster78

    BWFoster78 Myth Weaver

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    Perhaps you're inferring an intent that I wasn't trying to convey - not that I find any accusation of condescention on my part particularly troubling as it is, perhaps, a tendency of mine.

    From my perspective: When you start doing any activity, you don't have much discernment because you have no experience with which to judge. As you gain experience, that experience necessarily shapes your tastes.

    If I were in high school and a QB were to throw me a football, I'd think, "Wow, that guy throws hard and is really accurate." If I somehow then later in life ended up with Drew Brees throwing to me, I'd (after icing my hands) probably think, "Wow, HS me had no idea what hard and accurate is."

    Again, I feel that this applies to any endeavor.

    I don't see this as a particularly controversial or condescending viewpoint. SO, one of two possibilities: You either read something there that I didn't intend or this viewpoint is actually controversial/condescending.

    Perhaps the key to the issue is:

    This seems to imply that I feel that everyone should have the same opinions as I do. This is not the case as writing is extremely subjective and no two people share the same experiences.

    Regardless, I think that the overall point stands: You can certainly please a portion of the reading population by writing complete crap; I'm just not sure that this is a good aim for a writer or a particularly good way to try to achieve success in the marketplace.
     
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