Got two minutes? Then check out this week’s quick tip ~ A technique to keep readers engaged
Hello and welcome…I am a freelance editor and an editor for The Wild Rose Press, as well as an author. I often struggle with my own writing, and I have found that sometimes, a little reminder of ways to improve the process can be helpful, so, I like to share these moments of brilliance with others :). But, in this busy world of ours, who has time for pages and pages of writing tips? That’s why I’ve condensed mine down to quick flashes you can read in (approximately) two minutes. Enjoy…
Disclaimer: All of my tips are suggestions, and are only my opinion. And, for the most part, there are exceptions when going against my advice will make your story read better. Take what works, leave the rest.
Readers are impatient, as they should be. Everyone is so busy these days, they want to use their time wisely. Long narrative passages with long paragraphs and no dialogue can turn a reader off quickly.
This also goes along with ‘showing’ instead of ‘telling.’ Below, I’m using examples from my novella, Devil’s Promenade, showing two different versions of the same partial scene:
That morning at breakfast, I found a newspaper that contained an article about a woman who’d died near the Bed and Breakfast. She was an attractive woman but she gave off an unpleasant vibe in the photo that accompanied the article. As it turned out, the housekeeper at the inn, Jean, knew her. Her name was Eleanor Chaney. The article mentioned that the woman had drowned in nearby Spring River, and her body was found close to Devil’s Promenade. The name of the location confused me. I thought the area itself was called Devil’s Promenade, but as it turns out, that is also the name of a bridge that goes over Spring River. Jean seemed to think Eleanor’s death might not have been an accident. The dead woman grew up in the area and swam in the river often. Yet, she’d gone out, alone, at night. Then somehow drowned. Jean was right. It didn’t add up. I asked Jean if she thought it was suicide, or murder. But according to Jean, while Eleanor was unhappy, she wasn’t suicidal. But then, people never think those they care about could possibly commit suicide. Apparently, the police didn’t find anything suspicious, since they didn’t investigate it as a murder. Shockingly, Jean also informed me that the victim, Eleanor Chaney, was Declan Rush’s sister.
“Something catch your fancy?”
I started at Jean’s voice. My hand that held the coffee cup shook. “Sorry to be so jumpy. No, just engrossed in the news.” Should I ask her about the death? Maybe not just yet, not on my first morning. I didn’t want to seem like a nosy reporter, or that I was pumping her for information. She most likely knew the woman. This was a small town. Most people in the area probably knew one another.
Jean took the decision out of my hands when she eyed the paper. She wiped tears from her eyes with her fingertips. “Poor dear. God rest her soul.”
“Did you know her?”
“Yes of course. Eleanor Chaney. We were real close.”
I looked back down at the paper. A photo of the woman accompanied the article. She was attractive, but her expression showed an unpleasant emotion—anger, disapproval? Without it, she would have been much prettier. “She drowned in Spring River,” I said. “They said her body was found near Devil’s Promenade? I thought this area was called Devil’s Promenade.”
“It is. But it’s also the name of a bridge that goes over Spring River.”
The name made the death…the whole thing…even worse, somehow. “So tragic.”
“Yeah. They say it was an accident but …” She heaved a deep breath. “I don’t know. I wonder how that could be. She grew up swimmin’ in that river. And I don’t believe she’d go in the water alone, at night.”
A quiver ran through me. “Do you think it was suicide? Murder?”
Jean lowered onto a chair next to me and picked up the newspaper. She ran a finger lovingly over the picture, a sad smile on her wrinkled face. “Eleanor was not one of the happiest people I’ve ever known, but she thought too much of herself to commit suicide. I don’t buy that she’d take her own life.”
“So you think someone killed her?”
“I don’t know. The thought makes my skin crawl. This is a small town. Everyone knows each other. Eleanor wasn’t exactly well loved. And, her family history caused some hard feelings around here, but I don’t know anyone who hated her. Leastwise not enough to want her dead.”
Was Jean right? Had the woman been murdered? Surely if that were true, there would have been evidence pointing to foul play. “Well, either way, accident, murder, or suicide, it’s very sad.”
“Yes. And poor Mr. Rush. He’s beside himself.”
“Mr. Rush? He knew her too?” Was she his girlfriend? Not his wife, their last names were different. But then, not all women took their husband’s names…
“Knew her? Well, I’ll say. She was his sister.”
Which did you find yourself wanting to skip and which one kept you reading? When you’re editing/revising, skim your manuscript and if you see areas with little or no white space, take a closer look and see if you can revise to make them more engaging.
Until next time…Happy Writing!
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*** If you would like to send me a few sample pages (around 7500 words or so, even though I will not edit that many on the blog. It just gives me more to choose from) for me to edit and share on an upcoming blog post, please do so in the body of an email to AliciaMDean@aol.com. Please use the subject line: “Blog Submission” This is for published or unpublished authors. In the email, please include whether you would like me to use your name or keep it anonymous, and whether or not you would like me to include any contact info or buy info for your books. Also, you can let me know if you would like for me to run my edits by you before posting on the blog. Please keep in mind, this is for samples to use for blog posts. I will not edit or use samples from all the submissions I receive, but I will use as many as possible.
How to write a novel? That is the question. There are probably as many answers to that question as there are people who ask it.
Wanting to write and actually doing it are two very different things. I am well acquainted with the sometimes grueling process of churning out a story. Over the years, I have tried many methods for creating and completing manuscripts, and have tweaked and honed it down to a workable (for me) process.
Using specific examples from one of my own novels, Without Mercy, I share my method in this mini how to book. The first eight steps actually deal with plotting while the last two are designed to help expand your outline into a well-developed draft. There is no one, perfect way to create a story, but there will be a method, or methods that work for you. I’m not sure if this is the one, but it works for me. Only you can decide if it also works for you. Fingers crossed that it does!
*** Warning – Please do not purchase without reading a sample. (This is solid advice for any book, fiction or non. If you are not intrigued in the sample, you will likely not enjoy the book)
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16 responses to “Tuesday Two-Minute Writing Tip – White Space is Your Friend”
The two examples definitely make your point: Show don’t tell!
The ole less is more, eh? Always sound advice, Alicia! Thanks for sharing!
That’s a pretty good rule to follow in writing. 🙂 You’re welcome…thank you!
Great tips- as always! 🙂
Such a difference in the two! As always, your tips are right-on!
Yes, quite a difference. 🙂 Thank you, Darcy!
Such a difference in the two, the second is so much more interesting! Loved the tip. I always try to infuse dialog,makes writing more fun.
Thank you! Yes, dialogue is much more fun to write. 🙂
Thanks Alicia. Spot on as usual.
You’re welcome…thank you!
A little different take… I’ve always loved historical fiction (didn’t know that, did you, A.D.?). To be more precise, I loved reading James Michener, Leon Uris, Herman Wouk, etc. OMG, Hawaii. I’m a comparatively fast reader and it took me months to finish Michener’s Hawaii. But that was partially because the narration was so damned beautiful and enveloping…I was THERE as that magnificent island was created. I read those three-page descriptions of the tiny bird bringing a branch or taking a dump on a little atoll and twenty chapters later…voila! You have Hawaii. Yet, IMHO, as a retired editor, I don’t believe readers…at least readers of fiction today have the patience for long narrative, even if it is written superbly. So, I am a staunch believer in “show vs. tell” and “show me the white space!” At least as an editor…maybe not so much as a reader. But then I’m old, retired, and have lots of time on my hands. 🙂 As usual, excellent advice, Alicia my friend.
Ha, I did NOT know that about you! I agree, beautifully written narrative can be absorbing. But yes, readers today don’t have the patience. And, not that many writers can pull off the kind of descriptive passages Michener did! Thanks, my dear!
Great comparison. About half way through the first example, I stated skimming. Loved the dialogue much better.
Exactly…and we don’t want readers skimming our stuff, do we? 🙂 Thanks, Diane.