Don’t jolt a reader out of the story by butting in.
No-No Author Intrusions – they can suck the Energy from Your Writing
- Lecturing, hectoring – makes the reader feel manipulated. If you want to show morals, use character interactions (not lectures or moralizing), show the adverse impact of bad decisions on actions or by unfortunate consequences.
- Information dumps – just because you’ve spent dozens of hours researching a topic, you should not include information that is not needed – present in a natural, organic way – let your characters talk about the information with attitude and attention rather than a mini-lecture about some technical aspect, e.g., Dennis Lahane’s explanation about Russian Mafia (avoid Wikipedia style info-dumps; or, Robert Cray, The Last Detective – description of fingerprints. STAY RELEVANT. Don’t have the character pick up a pamphlet and read it aloud – this stops the action.
- Neutral or objective descriptions of settings – let the characters see and say in a way consistent with their age, education, emotions, etc. Show their sensory perceptions and reactions. Don’t forget mood – are they shivering from cold, afraid of the dark? Bring the scene to life through character. This is fiction, not a travelogue – readers will get bored. Details should be relevant, enhance the mood and reflect the character’s sensations – don’t bother with long narratives about the environment they are in – focus on key elements. Do they need to find something to hide behind? If so, then the terrain (bare, forest, desert) may be important, but only from the character’s perspective. Idyllic tends to be boring – descriptions should further character development.
- Long descriptions of what people are wearing – the character observing should have their own way of describing the people they meet. Show disdain or affection by using natural words and phrases. A blue collar worker will not use perfect grammar nor will a 12 year old boy notice the fine interior decoration of a room. You can still convey someone else’s appearance but do it without the layering of details that sound more like they come from a catalogue.
- KEEP IT AUTHENTIC – in a particular situation, what would the character thin, feel, smell (depends on their age, confidence, knowledge, motivation, etc.) A scared kid describing an event would use different language than an adult woman or man.
- Don’t write descriptions as exposition. Keep the reactions up close and personal.
- Backstory dumps – telling the reader unnecessary information about a character’s background inserted into the narrative as they are introduced. Stopping to fill the reader in is a newbie error. Hold back on detail. Have an event spark memory but keep it short. If you want to introduce background, place it somewhere that makes sense – a quiet scene where they would naturally be introspective – driving, walking.
- Dialogue dumps – real people don’t put up with this from a friend who lectures them on a topic. The “AYKB approach (as you know Bob) – where characters recreate long discussions about information for the ‘benefit’ of the reader – is a fail. People don’t tell each other things they both already know – this ‘technique’ is obvious, amateurish and annoying. Instead, use brief internal narration in your character’s voice, or insert arguments that bring up past events/information in an interesting way
- Interrupting the narrative to explain something as an aside, ‘little did Rick realize that…” annoys editors and readers. Terminology or expressions that do not fit the era or geographical area, ‘upscale’ in a historical novel.
- Show don’t tell. Use Flashbacks carefully – keep in action and dialogue and keep it short.
Your novel should have one main character. More scenes should be told from her point of view. Don’t jump back and forth between characters in the same scene.
Internal dialogue – use it judiciously. Break it up. Too much is boring.
Many transition scenes can be skipped. It’s best to keep the reader wondering. How? What? Don’t give obvious information – let it evolve little by little – hint at the character’s past. Today’s readers of contemporary novels do not want classical distance or can’t abide the author inserting themselves. They want to get up close and personal with the characters and vicariously living the character’s experience. Too much perfection is off-putting.