Tuesday, 24 January 2012

Holding a Reader's Focus

I hate it when I'm deep in a book and get interrupted. Woe betide you if you phone trying to sell me double glazing or PPI insurance protection. But then, what to do about the author who constantly interrupts me reading their story?

Anything that interrupts my reading focus is an interruption which is why you need to edit and edit and edit to make sure that there's nothing to stop the text flowing. This is where beta readers come in, friends who will read and note any places where they had a hiccup in the reading experience. Hopefully they'll pick up things like this, seen in last Saturday's Times:

"Freddie Max Wright was born on November 18, 2011. Freddie was born with a full head of hair weighing 8lb 3oz."

That's some hair! If you were reading it in a story you might blink, smile, and then carry on but even that momentary loss of focus might be enough to break your commitment to the story. If there are repeated mistakes, then the reader will give up. That's why it's so important to make sure the text is as clean as you can make it. No typos, no grammatical glitches and nothing to stand in the way between your text and the reader.


Carol McGrath said...

And what a warning this is to me. Love these snappy posts. They make me , well, let's say, wake up!

Philip C James said...

Useful tip, Sarah. Explains why 'stream of conscious' novels are such hard work to read (especially if it's the product of a butterfly mind such as mine).

And why unintended humour in pieces by journalists appears on the NEWS QUIZ far more often than from well-edited novels!

Like the idea of 'beta' readers!

Sarah Duncan said...

You're welcome, Carol.

Phil, pity the poor journalist who has to file to tight deadlines - but love all those mistakes. Beta readers are essential - if you find some good ones, hang on to them.

Richard Brittain said...

Hi Sarah. I beat you on Countdown! I just happened to be looking at that Bath road rage video page on The Guardian, which said "Bath knitwear business owner Sarah Duncan - not the author Sarah Duncan...", and I thought: That may be the author of romantic novels who I played on Countdown! And it is! How are you?

Sarah Duncan said...

Hi Richard, glad to hear from you - and congrats with your Countdown success. I'm well and writing, when not busy telling people I'm not that Sarah Duncan, I'm this Sarah Duncan. Hope all's well with you.

Anonymous said...

Yes! Absolutely right. Flow is everything while reading, and nothing is more important in this regard than perfect punctuation -- misplaced commas, in particular, contrive to hamper the reader, yet, sadly, this is an area of expertise that many professional writers (and editors!) neglect.