Do Not Exhaust the Reader

less is moreI’m an overly dramatic first-drafter. I blame it on Donald Maass and his insistence upon high stakes. To be fair, I think I take his advice out of context.

Something I’ve learned from working with a brilliant editor?

More often than not, less is more.

Just like too much sugar upsets the stomach, too much drama can exhaust our readers. We run the risk of diluting the impact and poignancy of the drama that should matter. It’s sort of like those characters who are constantly crying. Somehow, the never-ending waterworks make for a less emotional reading experience.

Not to mention, too much drama can flush that all-important suspension of disbelief down the toilet, which is the very last thing we want to do as writers. There reaches a point where eyes stop watering and start rolling.

This is what I found myself doing as I revisited one of my old manuscripts.

I had given my two leads back stories that were more tragic than they needed to be.

Which led to my new rule of thumb.

When critiquing my work, I ask myself a very simple question:

Is this necessary?

Is this particular piece of drama or back story or what-have-you vital to the story?

If I removed it, would the character’s motivations no longer make sense?

If yes, I leave it.

If no, I take it out. Lest my drama becomes melodrama.

Because of that question, I was able to alleviate some unnecessary tragedy from my hero and heroine’s past. And by doing so, have hopefully made this story one that is more emotionally engaging.

Let’s Talk: What makes you roll your eyes when you read?

11 thoughts on “Do Not Exhaust the Reader

  1. AJ Davis

    Katie – This is a good reminder. I know some times I get so caught up in a particular section or element of a character that I don’t want to remove it. But sometimes it is just better to hit delete.

    I think for me as a writer and a reader, it’s about giving the reader a little credit. Don’t spell everything out for them. Heather – I can completely agree with you. I often find myself saying, “okay, okay I get it she doesn’t eat healthy”, etc. we get it! It’s definitely a tough job to balance being too subtle or spelling it out, but that’s why you have critique groups or beta readers, right?

  2. I think readers often just value subtlety. Like when an author can stay that trigger finger on the burning urge to explain things and just let a character’s actions and succinct dialogue convey the story.

  3. Great points, especially true about that fine thread on which disbelief hangs. If I say “oh come ON!” outloud, while reading, I usually ditch the rest of the book.
    Anything I’ve put in either my MS or my new WIP, is as close to reality as possible with just a toe over the edge of “oh my word!”

    And as for preaching? If you feel like you’re being preached to, you are. That makes the whole book sour.

  4. What makes my eyes roll (read skip pages) is when the author writes pages upon pages of sermons, preachy dialog or the conversion experience of the character. Less is more there. Let’s face it, most of us reading Christian fiction are already Christians. I know there are some that aren’t but I don’t think pages upon preachy pages will automatically convert. [end of rant ;)]

  5. Ganise

    ‘More often than not, less is more’

    Seriously, I have ALWAYS- always- thought this. Hats off to you, Katie. This is very true. As a reader, I take notice of this when I am about half way through a book. As student of the writing craft, I try to preach to myself too… Not so easy at times…

  6. Those are fabulous questions to ask. I’m in revision stage right now, with my MS due in July. And I have a few scenes in which I’m pretty sure I go a little overboard on the drama. These questions are going to be perfect as I reconsider…so thanks for the help! πŸ™‚

    OH, and what makes me roll my eyes is when female characters are way too weak and male characters are way too perfect. Haha…I guess that doesn’t have much to do with the topic of drama, but still…it’s my pet peeve. πŸ™‚

  7. I go beyond eye rolling and border line on offended, angry even when I read descriptors like this regarding the leading lady;
    Thin but athletic (must mean she’s busty and no cellulite) – No make up wearing but possess natural beauty (really?) – Rich but not extravagant(right?)- Educated but works at a non profit for free (sure) – Doesn’t realize the hot guy that wants her does… And many more!

  8. Cherie Kasper

    I love writers telling us readers some of the process they’ve gone thru when writing a book

    1. Katie Ganshert

      I’m so glad you enjoy it, Cherie! That’s good to know!

  9. One of the things that has bothered me lately when reading is when a writer overemphasizes a character’s flaw. For example, if you’ve chosen to make your character clumsy, that’s great, but she doesn’t need to be clumsy in every chapter or scene. Or, maybe your character is snarky. Writers can take that snarkiness too far and make the character a little unlikeable. And yes, I’ve done this, but I TRY to fix it during edits.

    1. Katie Ganshert

      Yes – that’s a good one, Heather. It is all too easy to take things too far, whether it’s drama or a character flaw. I’ve noticed that I usually ALWAYS take things too far in the first draft. Which is just one reason among many why several edits are needed!


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