My writer productivity skyrockets when I set monthly goals. At the beginning of each week…
I love to read. Nonfiction, novels, articles, anything really. They’re all good! But, naturally, some are better than others. Or maybe those particular books just aren’t hitting me at the right time or when I’m in the right mood. Who knows?
I typically give a book 50-75 pages to get into it. If I find myself wanting to read one more page to see what happens, it’s a winner. If I’m okay with setting it down but know I’ll pick it up again soon, it’s still a winner. If I feel completely ambivalent or even hostile to a book, I give up on it.
Sometimes I’m initially engaged with a story but at some point, I’m just no longer connecting with it. That’s when I start skimming.
If I’m stressed or worried about something, I don’t blame the book. Nothing could penetrate the brisk gerbil-wheel of thoughts running through my head, not even a masterpiece.
When I pick up a new book, I want to fall into the story, bond with the characters, and see the world from someone else’s point of view. I don’t want to skim. I’m opening the book with the full expectation I’m going to enjoy it.
So why do I start skimming a book I’ve already invested time in and enjoyed enough to read past those early chapters? Good question. What are the top reasons for skimming a book? For me, there are three.
Top 3 Reasons I Start Skimming a Book
- There isn’t enough internal conflict.
- The plot, however intricate, has become predictable.
- I no longer care what happens to the characters.
Let’s look at each reason more in-depth.
Not Enough Internal Conflict
I read a variety of novels. While roughly half are romance novels, the other half are in different genres. Characters with compelling internal conflicts keep my attention every time. I continue reading because there’s tension on every page. And by tension, I don’t mean a fight or an argument. The tension could be from having to make a difficult decision or from experiencing growth that directly challenges their deeply-held beliefs about themselves.
Internal conflict done well can turn a simple plot into a novel a reader cannot put down.
We can feel their uneasiness as they’re forced into making difficult decisions. We simply have to know how their decisions and the obstacles they encounter are affecting them. So we keep turning the page.
I read books with relatively simple plots all the time–and I can’t put them down. It isn’t easy nailing the internal conflict and keeping it simmering throughout a book. When writers do it well, the book is so much more than it appears on the surface.
Plot Becomes Predictable
I recently read a book with an intricate plot, multiple points of view, and it had well-placed twists. Yet, by the mid-point, I wasn’t engaged. I started skimming. None of the new events felt new to me. I could see them coming, and for me, once again, it boils down to the characters. They weren’t developed enough to keep me guessing.
See, I don’t read a book solely for plot. I read it to connect with the characters and to understand them better. A good plot will keep me glued to the page. A ho-hum plot will keep me reading too, as long as the characters are still keeping me guessing.
It’s important to develop the protagonist as much, if not more, than the plot itself. And as I type this I’m laughing at myself because this is an area I have to work on again and again. Trust me, it’s easier said than done.
No Longer Care About the Characters
This boils down to points one and two. If there isn’t enough internal conflict (What is holding her back from falling in love with Mr. Hottie? or Why isn’t she just looking for a job in another field?), the book lacks stakes. It can have a twisting plot but if I’m easily predicting what will happen, I know the characters are probably underdeveloped. Which brings me to point three–I no longer care about the characters enough to give my full attention to each page.
Here’s the thing. I did care enough about them in the first 50-75 pages or I wouldn’t have continued reading. So the author grabbed my attention and kept it. However, somewhere along the way, all that initial what’s going to happen? How will she handle this? type of thinking faded into she’s not really doing much to achieve her goal, or I don’t get why she’s doing this when she was so adamant about not doing it in the last chapter.
I think it comes down to goals, motivations and conflicts. I tend to root for characters who are facing tough odds. I love it when they have a good reason for wanting what they want, and I really love it when there are obstacles for them to overcome. If her motivation isn’t made clear or the conflict is whisked out of the way, I don’t care if the character achieves her goal or not. Skimming, here we come.
How Authors Can Combat This
If we don’t want readers skimming our books, we need to develop complex characters with clear and compelling goals and spell out reasons why they can’t have them. As the story progresses, we reveal deeper aspects of the characters’ personalities. We give insights into the characters we couldn’t have presented in the early pages. And we continue to put the pressure on the characters–until the very end.
Do you ever find yourself skimming a book? What takes you out of the story?
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Have a terrific week!