When Complications Go Too Far: The Lazy Reader Issue

As I was getting distracted on Facebook instead of doing what I got on FB to do (again), I clicked on yet another post about Disney character remakes as this or that. It’s kind of old hat now, but I enjoy seeing them – if it doesn’t take too much time or energy.

That’s the problem. See, as soon as the page loads, I could see the hideous markings of a slideshow. That means that instead of scrolling down a page of amusing images, I would have to click on each blasted “next” area to view each image one-by-one. And that means that each image would have to load individually.

Which takes forever.

I’ll be honest. If I click on a link that takes me to a slideshow, I almost always close the window unless there’s an option(that I can find) to view the page as a list. The same is true for a lot of videos. If I was only mildly interested, I don’t bother to watch because it takes longer than a quick glance at an article (like I was expecting).

Uh-huh. What does that have to do with writing?

Well, many of today’s readers (and almost all of tomorrow’s readers) spend their time online. They’re just as impatient as I am, and the harder it is to read something (the more buttons they have to click), the less likely they are to do it.

That goes for novels, too. There are a lot of fun complications that writers like to throw into our books. Complications add difference. They make us feel unique and creative, and it’s easy for us to get excited about one and go overboard. Unfortunately, those same complications are almost certainly going to make us lose some readers.

Here are a few examples of complications that can make readers decide that your book is too difficult and not worth the trouble:

  • A ton of characters introduced very quickly
  • Strange/unfamiliar names
  • Exceptionally long books (such as the 1,000 page epic fantasy)
  • Intricate and difficult plots
  • Convoluted prose (such as showing off your sentence variety)
  • Lots of longs words

A lot of readers out there are probably going, “but I read books like that all the time!” So do I. But I’m not the average reader, and I know that. I like epic fantasy and science fiction – genres that are known for strange names, long books, convoluted plots, and long/scientific words. But the intricate ones are not my lazy reading. That’s the kind of reading that makes the reader infer more, make connections, and remember those connections 10 chapters later. I’m not always in the mood to do that, so I completely understand why some people are never in the mood to do that.

You’re not losing the die-hard readers. You’re losing the casual readers. You’re losing the people who were interested enough for some quick, lazy reading but didn’t want to put too much effort into it.

That’s not always a bad thing. If you’re writing in a specific genre, you may not care if people who don’t usually read that genre like the book. If you’re trying to appeal to a broader audience, however, it’s more important. And even in a genre like epic fantasy, it’s possible to go too far. If you make it so complicated that a die-hard reader puts it down, you have a problem.

My point is that you need to know. You need to be aware that putting all of those characters in the first chapter is going to turn off some readers. Know that intricate sentences will throw some people off.

Recognize that some people are going to close the window when they realize it’s a slideshow.

If you know, and you still decide to do it, then that’s a risk you’re choosing to take. You’re going in with your eyes open, and if you don’t expand your fan base with that book, you’re not going to be shocked and disappointed. On the other hand, if you do something that complicates your writing but don’t realize the effect it might have on readership, you might be in for a rude shock. Worse, you may not know what the problem is – what to target in your edits.

I don’t know about you, but, personally, I’d much rather know I’m taking a risk before I take it. Finding out after you’ve failed is too cruel.

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