Thursday, May 13, 2010

Thinking Readers

Reading thuRsday

On The Spectacle, P.J. Hoover asked, "Do people want to think when they read?"
In much of spec fiction, we’re dealing with new worlds, new rules, new technologies, new creatures. And with any of these things, as writers, we need to provide answers to the who/what/where/when/why questions.

As writers of spec fiction, it is our responsibility to make sure these questions are addressed and answered. But do the answers need to be in the pages? And if so, how detailed should they be?

In my opinion, most people read spec fiction to immerse themselves in a new world. And immersed in this place, they don’t want to have to think to hard. They want to lose themselves in the words. They don’t want to see detailed technical details that take them out of place.

As a reader, I most enjoy the books that give me plenty to think about when I'm not reading. Conversely, I find tedious the books that that say, in effect, "shut up and enjoy the ride." Novels of that sort might create more of a drive to read through them to find out what happens, but they do so at the price of re-readability.

Of course, we don't want to bring the story to a halt with a physics lecture in the same way that we don't want to bring the story to a halt with a history lesson (i.e., a back-story dump). A skillful writer will weave all the key information the reader needs into the story.

There are actually two skills in that last sentence: 1) the skill of weaving information into a story without breaking up its flow, and 2) a sense of the information the reader actually needs.

For example, most readers will probably accept silicon rock creatures without worrying about their origins if the writer says they exist in the world of the story. In the middle of the book, readers would only care about the evolutionary biology of the silicon rock creatures if that information is the key to defeating them. But after they've read the book and want supplementary material, they may find the topic very interesting.

I think the sweet-spot is a book with a seamless narrative that gives the reader plenty to think about when they're away from the book.

Image: Michelle Meiklejohn /

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