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”.

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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 https://williampeaceblog.wordpress.com/wp-admin/post.php?post=34&action=edit).  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.

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