Tuesday, September 27, 2011

Skimming vs. Reading?

Okay, so the other day, I had an interesting conversation with a friend of mine.

Until I read Jeaniene Frost's Night Huntress series, I was not a fan of series fiction.  To be honest, it didn't matter the medium: TV, books, movies.  I preferred the story to be complete at "The End."

But, like so many others, I was caught up in the Twilight series, which made me search out other authors known for their series fiction.

Unfortunately, the stories began to feel all too familiar.  I described one series to my friend as the same story continually repeated, except the hero/heroine had different color hair.  In some of the other stories, I found myself skimming.  Can you believe it.  Skimming.  (I admit skimming a time or two in high school, but I swear...that was the only time or two.)  Until now.  Not even the sex scenes kept me interested.  I found myself skimming through all of the description searching for dialogue (who knows what I missed.)

All of this reminded me of something said by Elmore Leonard (an excerpt is pasted below.)
8 Avoid detailed descriptions of characters, which Steinbeck covered. In Ernest Hemingway's "Hills Like White Elephants", what do the "Ameri­can and the girl with him" look like? "She had taken off her hat and put it on the table." That's the only reference to a physical description in the story.

9 Don't go into great detail describing places and things, unless you're Margaret Atwood and can paint scenes with language. You don't want descriptions that bring the action, the flow of the story, to a standstill.

10 Try to leave out the part that readers tend to skip. Think of what you skip reading a novel: thick paragraphs of prose you can see have too many words in them.

Because we are writers, do we sometimes get a little carried away with description, world building, or backstory that we bore readers?

When I critique someone's story, one area that always jumps out at me is pacing.  A writer's use of sentence structure, word choice, paragraph structure, etc. all of it goes into their pacing.  If I find myself losing where I was in the story, forgetting what I read, not knowing if I'm in a flashback or not...I always wonder if it's me (and the type of story I like to read), or if it's the story.

Be honest, do you ever skim?


Smoky said...

As an editor, I have to read every word, and I often delete large blocks of descriptive text precisely because they interfere with pacing. Pacing is an art too many writers don't study. When you want a fast-paced scene, you don't want description! You want dialogue to the exclusion of nearly all else. Great post, Angela.

Sheila Tenold said...

Yes, I have skimmed over whole paragraphs in some books. Usually for two reasons. One, I lost interest in a particular subject the author shared in detail. While interesting, the material didn't seem to provide any glue within the story. Two, repetitive sex scenes which, in my opinion, also didn't add to the story.

Denise Pattison said...

Oh, yeah, I've found myself skimming quite a bit in recent years. I used to read every darn word, no matter what because books were precious and I had a hard time getting my hands on them when I was growing up.

Now, the book has to hold my attention. If I find myself saying, "yeah, yeah, just get on with the story." I know I've got a problem and I won't be purchasing that particular author's books anymore.

There have been several authors removed from my autobuy list. I've found that I prefer dialogue and action. Keep those descriptions of the surroundings to a minimum. Why? Even though critique partners have told me I need that stuff in my books I've found I don't like it in the books I read. Since those books are now keepers for me, I believe I've found my style of writing. Finally!

Oh, and another thing I skim. The writer telling me what the POV character is thinking. Really? You think you need to tell me that? I can't get it from the rest of the narrative/dialogue? Give me the deep dark secret but don't keep beating me over the head with what the POV character is thinking when it's more than apparent due to surrounding information.

Ana Morgan said...

I start to skim when the author starts repeating. The same information in differed wording is still the same information. I skim for the next action. If I have to do this too many times, I'll put down the book.

Angela Kay Austin said...

Hiya Smoky, thanks for dropping by!

Angela Kay Austin said...

Sheila, I can't tell you how many sex scenes I've skimmed through because of the very same reason.

Angela Kay Austin said...

Denise, I used to have an autobuy list, but not so much anymore. I've found some great little jewels just by poking my nose around.

Angela Kay Austin said...

Ana, redundancy is a huge problem for a lot of authors. I fight with it myself.

Josie said...

Hi Angela,
Yes, I skim whenever a book starts to lose my interest. Long, vivid descriptions that are over the top will also make my eyes glaze over. Short, snappy dialogue and white space encourage me to keep reading.