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Tuesday, October 24, 2006

The Mischievous Reader And The Unspoken Agreement

I was thinking about how I should have cut down the rather boring introduction from DARC AGES, when it hit me...

Who says the reader can't just skip the boring parts?

See, writers and readers have this silly unspoken agreement. It goes something like this:

UNSPOKEN READER-WRITER AGREEMENT
1. The Reader is obliged to start reading the Text from the first line of the first page, and read the entire Text to the last line.

2. The Reader is not allowed to skip to the ending, alter the Text, tear out pages or deliberately misread the Text.

3. In return, the Writer pledges to have removed any unnecessary words from the Text, and to include all relevant information in the Text.

And the unspoken agreement is totally bogus. Everybody breaks it.

In reality, readers DO skip to the ending (if only to check that the ending is worth the effort of reading the rest). In reality, readers DO skip the boring passages. They DO add their own comments to the original text.

In reality, writers DON'T edit down the text to contain only what is absolutely relevant to the context of the whole narrative. In reality, they DO omit necessary information.

So I thought: is this why books are so damned long nowadays?
To allow the picky reader to choose what to read and what to skip?
To what extent should I let the reader choose what to read?
And does this allow me to get lazy in my editing?
Are we all just pretending that people read the whole book?

What do you think?

1 comment:

Arman said...

I tried leaving a comment but since you're not using Blogger Beta I couldn't. Thus, I'm leaving it without using my logged in profile. I also have to write my comment from scratch again. Oh well.

Whenever I read a book and skip parts (descriptions of something, mostly) because it's simply too boring, that's a failure from the writer's side. So when I write my own stuff, I always ask myself the question if I would skip anything. If so, I cut and rearrange. When writing a novel I kind of use the same approach as to short stories, where there's simply no room for unnecessary detail.

Basically, if it doesn't advance the plot, or isn't character development, or infodrop, or a symbol of some sort, it has to go. Of course one should have descriptions of things, but not excessively, or go deeply into issues that don't really add to the overall story. If, after having read a book, I go back to a passage and exlaim "This part really didn't do [i]anything[/i]", it shouldn't be there.

It keeps the pace up as well, as an added bonus (if that's a goal). It isn't laziness, in my opinion. I think a story, any story, should make its point(s) while being entertaining and that's that. Of course, if I know a part is really, really good, or really really funny, but it doesn't really really add anything to the story, I could keep it. Readers might even read the passage. But still, it can never escape one fact: that it was gratuitous. So one has to choose which is best, to keep it or put it away.

Also, Julle at Catahya wrote a good article about this (http://www.catahya.net/artikel.asp?id=125) (in Swedish).