Creating Reader-Friendly Books

In the October 2014 issue of Independent, the monthly journal of the Independent Book Publishers Association, has an article “On Creating Reader-Friendly Books for Today’s Busy Readers”.


The article is aimed at non-fiction books, but much of the author’s (Jodie Renner) advice is applicable to fiction, as well, except for the first item which recommends the “use of casual language and everyday words for immediate comprehension and inclusion.”  If it was ever fashionable to write fiction in casual language and everyday words, it has certainly gone out of style today.  One has only to look at the first page of almost any novel on the Booker Prize Long List (I know it has been reduced to a Short List, now) to see the use of unusual words, phrases and construction.  It seems to me that this is intended to announce, “I am an innovative and creative writer!” and is not intended to make things easier for the reader.  I think that the first page of a novel should be about capturing the readers interest (see my December 3, 2011 blog  The use of unusual words, phrases and construction should be confined to intriguing the reader and clarifying the scene better than ordinary text.

Ms Renner goes on to say that one should “write lean; don’t waste the reader’s time”.  I think this is good advice: I find myself deleting extra words that contribute nothing when I review what I’ve written.

She recommends “cut down on the use of -ly adverbs. (adjectives converted to an adverb)  Instead of propping up a weak, overused verb with an adverb, use a strong, specific verb.  Instead of ‘walked slowly’ use strolled, sauntered, ambled, wandered, roamed, or meandered.”  In fact, some critics recommend the banishment of all adverbs.  I think this is a little harsh, but I confess to using my thesaurus to find a verb that’s more suitable than what first sprang to mind.

She says, “Avoid generic words such as things, objects, stuff, items, persons, places, food, plants , animals, pets, kids, which don’t give the reader an instant visual.  “They had lunch in a restaurant” doesn’t evoke a picture for your readers.  Be specific and create sensory imagery so readers know the mood of the gathering, visualise the kind of restaurant, and can almost smell the food and hear the sounds.”  Sometimes when I’m describing a new scene, I find myself going through a sensory checklist: if I were there, what would I hear, smell, see, and feel (both emotionally and tactilily.)

There are other bits of advice in her article, but for my audience their repetition would be boring.

Do Characters Change?

I suppose we enjoy seeing characters whom we like change for the better, and characters we don’t like fail to change and thereby suffer punishment.  Although, likeable characters with   defect, and who are unable to correct the defect, can earn our sympathy.  And then there are characters whom we dislike initially, but who win our sympathy through an act of kindness or a change of heart.   I think it’s fair to say that, as a general rule, a reader likes to see characters change: after all, this is what makes them interesting.  But, if a character changes too much, to quickly, or in completely unexpected ways, that character can lose credibility and may seem contrived.

As I look back at my novels, and think about how the characters changed during the story, I see some interesting points.  Fishing in Foreign Seas was my first novel – a kind of experiment.  It is a romance and a business challenge.  To me, with benefit of hindsight, the characters are somewhat stereotypical, and they don’t change much.  Rather, they learn and grow from the challenges with which they are presented.

Sin & Contrition, my second novel is a kind of morality tale about six characters, friends from the age of 13.  They are quite different characters, from different backgrounds.  As a result of the temptations each of them faces, a few of them change their values and priorities quite significantly; some do not change much (and probably earn the reader’s condemnation).

The next two novels, Efraim’s Eye and The Iranian Scorpion are thrillers.  In both cases, the hero and the villain do not change much at all, but in each case, the key supporting character changes almost beyond recognition.  In Efraim’s Eye, the key supporting character is Naomi, who starts out as a naïve, adorable nomad, and by the end of the book, she has become a pragmatic, tough-minded woman.  In The Iranian Scorpion, Rustam is the key supporting character.  When we first meet him, he is a frightened, insecure, Afghan boy of 15 with sexual fantasies. By the end, he is a confident, secure, married man with a pregnant wife.  How did these changes occur?  Each of these characters underwent a hammering in the forge of real life, and each of them had the mettle to emerge stronger.

My fifth novel, Sable Shadow and The Presence, is told in the first person by a character who is seeking his identity, and it follows his changes from early childhood to middle age.  In a sense, this is a story about the how’s and why’s of character change.

Hidden Battlefields should be published in about six weeks.  It is a sequel to The Iranian Scorpion, but each of the four main characters struggles with an internal conflict, the resolution of which changes his or her life quite dramatically.  This is a novel about what causes us to change, and how it comes about.  By contrast, the two main evil characters, do not change much at all.  You can probably guess what happens to them!

Review: Sable Shadow and The Presence

Readers Favorite has awarded Sable Shadow and The Presence Five Stars:


Their review of the novel is as follows:

Author: William Peace

Genre: Fiction –

General   Appearance: Cover, Construction, Chapter Headings, Illustrations, Table of Contents 5

The appearance of a book makes a dramatic difference in the experience of the reader. Appearance includes everything from an enticing cover and intriguing table of contents, to interesting chapter headings and eye-catching illustrations. This book excelled in all of these areas.

Plot: Concept, Characters, Originality 5

The characters of a book should be well defined, and while they do not have to be likable, the reader does have to be able to form a connection with them. The theme should be consistent and the plot should be original or told from a unique perspective. All of these elements are exceptionally well done in this book.

Development: Description, Dialogue, Creativity, Organization, Length, Fluidity, Coherence 5

Besides the plot, the development of a book is the most critical. The dialogue should be realistic, the descriptions should be vivid, and the material should be concise and flow smoothly. The development of this book is very well done.

Formatting: Editing, Proofreading, Layout 4

Editing and proofreading is where most authors fail. An author should have more than one person proofread their book. The best plot will fail if the reader has to stumble through misspelled words, misused words, bad punctuation, and poor grammar. This book needs a bit of editing.

Marketability: Theme, Subject Matter, Size of Target Audience 5

Marketability refers to how well your book can be marketed and sold. The larger the target audience a book has, the greater the value it will have to publishers and retailers. Although this element is not indicative of the quality of a book, it is important to the success of a book. This book has a wide appeal and can be marketed to many types of readers.

Overall Opinion: Overall Starred Rating 5

This rating takes into account all previous elements and the reader’s overall opinion of the book. This is an excellent, very well written book.

Review: Reviewed by Mamta Madhavan for Readers’ Favorite
Sable Shadow & The Presence by William Peace is the the fictional autobiography of Henry Lawson who hears two voices from his childhood. These two voices represent good and evil and, like any of us, Henry also hears them while making decisions. The story takes us through Henry’s childhood to his college days, to his relationships, to his marriage and his business. Henry suffers a series of tragedies at the peak of his career which sees him attempting suicide. He recovers from that dark phase with the help of his wife and a psychiatrist. It is a story of triumph, tragedy, good, and evil.
The book has many interesting twists and turns in the plot. The author’s fascination for existentialism is revealed through Henry Lawson’s interest in the writings of Jean-Paul Sartre. That contributes a lot of wisdom in the discussions that occur in the story. The characters are well developed and they help in making the plot strong and powerful. There are some thought provoking details on good and evil which give readers an opportunity to think more about their individual beliefs and ideas. I found the representation of the good and the bad voices very practical and relatable. Readers can connect to that very easily.
The character of Henry Lawson has many shades which make him an interesting person. The author has captured well the triumph, tragedy, good, evil, sorrows, and happiness of human life that are palpable
good, evil, sorrows, and happiness of human life that are palpable while reading the book.

Review: Favors and Lies

I decided to buy and read a copy of Mark Gilleo’s novel, Favours and Lies, because it received an award at a recent book festival. (One always wants to understand what other successful writers are doing.)

The brief biography at the back of the book says: “Mark Gilleo holds a graduate degree in international business from the University of South Carolina and an undergraduate degree in business form George Mason University. He enjoys traveling, hiking and biking. He speaks Japanese. A fourth-generation Washingtonian, he currently resides in the DC area. His first two novels, Love thy Neighbor and the national best seller Sweat were recognised as finalist and semi-finalist, respectively, in the William Faulkner-Wisdom creative writing competition.”


This photo appears on his website.

Favours and Lies concerns Dan Lord, a private investigator with a law degree and a selected list of clients. He works in the DC area on ‘the blurred line between right and wrong’. When his brother’s widowed sister-in-law, Vicky, and her son, Conner, die under very strange circumstances, Dan takes a particular interest. Vicky dies in an apparent suicide and Conner dies of what seems like a drug overdose. Neither of these deaths make sense to Dan. Then the detective who was investigating the deaths of mother and son is killed, as is the son’s girlfriend. Dan finds that the records of several key phone calls have disappeared, and Dan engages a computer wizard to find out what happened to the phone call on-line records. There is a secretive company, the address and phone number of which are unlisted. There is a high class madam, a Russian intelligence officer, a medical doctor, a barber, a martial arts trainer an assistant district attorney, a night club owner, with whom Dan exchanges favors and lies in order to find the killers of his relatives. Some of these people end up dead; Dan, nearly so on several occasions. Toward the conclusion of the novel, we learn the reason for Conner’s death, and of the illegal conspiracy which lay behind it. The motivation for Conner’s death and those responsible is quite a shocking surprise. Fortunately, the favors given to Dan by those friends who remain alive are repaid.

Favors and Lies is a fast-moving book, which is difficult to put down: one wants to find out what happens next. The characters are distinctive and interesting, but they are ‘on stage’ for such short periods, in many cases, and described in terms of their appearance and history more than in terms of their values. One feels little empathy for many of them, the exceptions being Dan and Detective Wallace. The dialogue is clipped and punchy, fully in keeping with a fast-moving detective thriller. The locations of the various scenes are described is such detail that one senses the author’s pride in his familiarity with the streets of the US capital. There is some technology on which the plot for Favors and Lies depends, but it is pretty much understandable. For me – a very literal-minded person – the difficulty I have with Favors and Lies is the credibility of the plot, taken as a rapid-fire whole. But, in the genre of gripping, no-holds-barred detective stories, there are few better.