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Sunday, January 23, 2005


What's Your Reader Tolerance?

I used to be a pretty patient consumer. I would read a slow starting novel and give it at least 100 pages before I stopped. Or with nonfiction, I would faithfully plow through every single page of information and consume it. Or with a dull movie, I would sit with the video or DVD version until the last frame of the movie. Last night my wife and I rented a recently released film which we missed when it came in the theater. We watched about 45 minutes of the 125 minute film, then looked at each other and turned it off. Our reader tolerance hit the ceiling.

These days I’m finding my reader tolerance level isn’t very high. Maybe it comes from seeing too many poorly-crafted manuscripts on the fiction side of things—where the story actually begins way into the manuscript. Or maybe it’s from seeing too many nonfiction manuscripts that have no readers or market in mind when they were created (or seem that way from the writing). Or maybe it’s the piles of books with great promise and not enough hours in our hurry up world to possibly read them.

In fiction, the story situation or the character or some other fiction element has to grab me. For nonfiction, the topic has to have enough storytelling to keep me turning the pages. If not, I find that I flip ahead and some times I don’t finish the book.

For a positive example in this area of reader tolerance, I turn to a general market book that caught my attention (and I haven’t read yet). I know Jack El-Hai, the author, from my involvement with the American Society of Journalists and Authors. I was looking at Jack’s website to promote the book and this paragraph jumped out at me, “As gripping as a medical thriller, The Lobotomist examines the motivations of a man whose personality combined brilliance with arrogance, compassion with egotism, and determination with stubbornness. The result is an unforgettable portrait of a physician who permanently shaped the lives of his patients, as well as the course of medical history.” It looks fascinating to me.

With reader tolerance, here are a few tips for the writer to keep in mind: show don’t tell, begin with a bang, and write in the active tense. Each of these articles in the links have detail information for these tips. You may think you handle all of these elements with excellence—but I’d encourage you to return to your manuscript and make sure it’s present.

Reader tolerance is a subjective matter. Your reader tolerance will be different than my reader tolerance. As I write or edit, it’s an important element to keep in mind.

1 Comment:

At 8:07 AM, Anonymous Anonymous Left a note...

I too have a fairly low reader tolerance. I'll pick up a novel at the bookstore and if I'm not intrigued from, really, the first page, I often won't go any further. It helps me understand a bit the need to grab from the getgo in fiction. I can only imagine what it's like for editors like yourself!

C.J. Darlington

 

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