When I wear my reader’s hat there is one thing about author style that is guaranteed to send me to sleep. It is the annoying habit some writers have of over-explaining or showing off their knowledge of particular subjects or locations by lacing the pages with what is usually needless information.
This often leads to too many roadblocks that interrupt the flow of the story. In my case, it usually results in a firm closing of the book (or a decisive tap on the Kindle off-button) followed by a determination to strike that author off my future must-read list.
I was once told that just because you know the detail of something doesn’t mean you have to bore the pants of everyone by telling them about it every chance you get. It’s all very well, for example, that you may know the precise calibrations and mathematic formulae for manufacturing a car engine but do your readers really want to spend time reading about it in a romantic novel or, for that matter, any other kind of novel?
The same principle holds true for many of life’s little day-to-day things we all take for granted. The trick for an author is how to weave these into a story without allowing them to become repetitious and boring.
Here’s a quick guide to some of the main pitfalls:
We all have to do it and at times we must acknowledge that our characters do so too. It’s okay to mention that our hero stepped into a diner and ordered a plate-filling steak with French fires and all the trimmings before wolfing down homemade apple pie and four cups of coffee. Where it starts to go wrong is when the eating habits of the individual become obsessive for the writer. Given that most of us enjoy three squares a day, it would take up a lot of space, and demand a lot of patience, to take the reader on a daily culinary trip.
Cleaning and bathing
It is fairly obvious that the odd shower and regular trips to the loo are a part of the human make-up but let’s not head into the bathroom with our hero or heroine every day!
Jumping into a car with a book’s character and heading off across town in pursuit of the baddies, or to keep a harmless appointment, occurs fairly regularly and ought to be told in an interesting way. For that reason authors need to spice things up a bit by using their sat-nav skills to demonstrate the character knows how to get from A to B and avoid the build-up of traffic on certain routes. Great – I’ll take that journey anytime, but please don’t keep lacing the book with constant descriptions of how your characters get around every time they need to shift location.
Drugs and medicines
One of my big bugbears in novels is when the names of drugs keep rearing their unpronounceable heads. There are certainly many occasions when the need to name and describe a particular drug is paramount but one dose of Acetazolamide or Trihexyphenidyl is enough for me. Constant referrals to drug names will only make the author appear smug and the readers feel they are being talked down to.
This is becoming all too common these days. We can’t seem to refer to any product without dropping in their brand names. It’s okay if a lead character has a fetish for Hershey bars but do we need to know the brand of his coffee, or his milk, or his cheese, or his shoes, his coat etc. etc. every time he makes a purchase? It’s not as if we as authors are getting paid for subliminal or even in-your-face advertising so why promote products? If a character buys a chocolate bar then say he bought a chocolate bar. It’s hardly necessary to say he needed the fix of the smooth, creamy texture of a six-piece Galaxy bar.
The above list could be added to with constant mention of what clothes are being worn, what TV programmes are being shown, or by listing the names of all the stores in a shopping mall.
Attention to detail is fine but obsessiveness with it can be a turn off.