Tuesday, November 29, 2011

One of many ways to drag a reader out of the story

Imagine you're lost in a good story, immersed in the characters and setting and plot, and all of a sudden you trip over something that doesn't belong, or that doesn't feel quite right, and then, unhappily, you're back in the real world. It's like a glitch in the matrix, and it makes you feel a little squeemish inside.

These glitches can come in many shapes and forms: inconsistent characterisation, time lines that don't match up, unrealistic dialogue. Or it could just be a word.

I read a series a few years ago (which I loved for the most part) that actually gave me an uncomfortable squicky feeling every time I read a particular word. The word was 'boyo'. My aversion is not to the word itself, but to the author's use of it. If one particular character, or characters from a similar area, used the word in speech it would be a characterisation tool. Something to mark them as different. But the word wasn't used that way. It sat where every instance of 'man' or 'boy' should have been. And the book wasn't even in first person! I started pausing every time I read 'boyo' and replacing it with 'man' or 'boy' in my head, so annoying was it. I almost stopped reading, even though I enjoyed the rest of the book.

So there you go, one simple way to throw your readers out of the story.

What have you read recently that's made you pause and pull back from the story? Or does this sort of thing not bother you? If you're a writer, do you have a word you like to use that others might find out of place? If so, it could be time to use Word's find and replace tool.


  1. I recently used my Kindle to read the first few pages of an urban fantasy by a very famous author.  (A good idea, if you want to try out a book before purchasing.)  The author is so famous now, there's no vigorous editing going on.  At one point the MC acknowledges there's no point to doing a spell in a graveyard, then a couple pages later the MC has it all planned this way because this part of the graveyard is the best place.  There was no layering of motives going on; just the kind of contradiction any of us beginning writers might make, but it gets a pass because of the loyal fan base.  
    To get published, your first several pages have to be better than what some of the more established people out there are doing.  Is it possible?  Yes.  

  2. This thing bothers me, too. It can be really hard to pull me into a story, and I've done so much editing that I've had to work hard to shut off the editor side of me when I want to read for enjoyment. But I notice things like a book being named one thing on one page, and one letter being different on the next page, or timelines, or things like that. If the story is really good, I can ignore it, but I do notice.

    Laura @ http://laurajosephsen.blogspot.com/

  3. Language is so funny! I assume you meant "torch" in the Australian sense of battery operated flashlight. But when I first read that, my American English immediately made me think stick with fire on the end of it - like maybe you were writing a historical or pre-modern era high fantasy!

    Gotta love regional slang . . .

  4. My tick isn't a work it's an action - eyebrow raising. My characters do it far too much. It's so bad even I'm aware of it!

  5. I hate the overuse of certain words. I'm currently in the middle of a scene. It's dark and my character only has a torch..... how many ways can I write torch, light, flashlight, beam...?

    And hearing the word 'Boyo', I keep thinking of a Welshman.

  6. Maggie Bunting HallJanuary 20, 2012 at 8:52 PM

    Oh, wow. "Boyo" would have definitely been a deal-breaker for me. That's...really strange. 

    A very smart CP reminded me recently that I use "something" and "somehow" far too much... :)

  7. Ahh, the old eyebrow raise. I've noticed it's pretty common in YA. Although usually it's a secondary character who can do it and the MC wishing they could.

    At least you're aware of your writerly tick! Once you know what your ticks are it's a lot easier to find a remedy. :)

  8. It's funny you say that, I've noticed Australians are replacing more and more words with their American counterparts. Like 'cab' instead of 'taxi'. It's interesting to see!

  9. I know exacty what you mean! When you're writing a scene with a particular item or something specific about the setting it can be hard to avoid over using a word. I had the same problem when I wrote a scene with my MC in a cave. There's only so many ways you can write rock/stone/granite walls.

  10. Hehe. Don't worry, Maggie, I think "something" and "somehow" are standard writerly ticks that every writer struggles with. I no I do!

  11. This bothers me too - when I want to erase a word from the English language because it's been overworked by the author, I can reach screaming pitch :)

    Factual errors too, have me out of the story quicker than anything. And it can be really top authors who make these mistakes. One of my favorite authors had a character drinking a cup of tea, and then put down a mug of coffee. She's good though, so I forgave her :D