are you sending your readers to sleep

It all started so well.

I started reading a novel recently that I picked by chance, and I have to say that I was left with feeling that a potentially terrific story had been wasted. The first chapter was quite well written with a tempting plot setting and this was what hooked me into selecting this book after reading the preview. After buying the book, and then reading further, I was impressed that the book had obviously been thorough, if not meticulously proofread. For the first twenty pages or so, I thought it was going to be a good example of a well-written self-published novel.

Unfortunately though, after these first few well-written pages, the wheels fell off and I only continued reading because I was making mental notes of the facets of the book that were spoiling what could have been a terrific read. Here are a few of the problems I encountered.

Awful Formatting: The text was in one huge block with no clear or regular paragraphing.  Either a line space between paragraphs or first line indent would have been the normal choices to help a reader navigate the text. Without either, it made it very difficult to read and killed any flow the story may have had.

All Tell:  All good writers know about ‘Show and Tell‘ and that while a balance of the two is needed in fiction writing, all narrator driven ‘tell’ is a sure fire way to send a reader to sleep. If only the characters had been allowed to ‘show’ their story. I won’t harp on this point, but suffice to say that it is an all too common mistake I see – writers falling into the trap of only telling their story from their point of view, and not the characters telling theirs. This book was, unfortunately, one of those with practically all author tell and no character show.

Clichéd And Weak Dialogue: Worse that just using clichés and hackneyed phrases, the very limited dialogue in this book hardly ever extended beyond five or six words and each line of dialogue carried a reporting verb and an all too often adverb. It was symptomatic of a lack of understanding in allowing characters to develop and ‘showing’ the story to the reader. Without well-crafted dialogue, it was impossible to get to know the characters. The best way I have found to test dialogue is to read it out loud. Does it sound natural and logical? If not, re-write it so it does.

Unreal Fiction: While fiction is fiction, it does need to really make sense. Non-sensical reactions by characters, illogical outcomes to scenarios and just plain silliness all weaken a good plot. There were some very silly passages in this book that should have been edited out.

A Flat Ending: There is nothing more disappointing than reading a novel and discovering that it has a rushed ending. The end of a book should be when the reader thinks ‘wow’, not, ‘damn’. I was left with the impression that the author hadn’t planned out this story at all and the ending was driven by the word count and not the story. ‘And they all lived happily ever after?’

These are just a few of the problems I encountered with this book, but my main purpose in highlighting them is not to criticise the book or the author. Therefore I won’t mention either by name. My thoughts on this book are only to offer some clues on how to improve and grow as a writer.

Self-publishing is a really tough business, and with so many great, good, bad and terrible books available now, the only way to stand out from the crowd is to write extremely well. Avoiding the errors I have highlighted here may just help you do that.

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