Habit: skipping parts or passages in a novel

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Habit: skipping parts or passages in a novel

Postby steve » 12 Feb 2011, 11:30

I see a lot of comments on this forum and other blogs of readers who say they skip parts or passages when reading a novel.

Usually the skipped parts are described as "long" or "boring" or having "too much information" or "not enough dialogue."

I don't understand this habit of skipping, unless you're a student reading assignments and pressed for time.

Otherwise, I'd say skipping passages is bordering on being illiterate.

Say no to skipping.
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Re: Habit: skipping parts or passages in a novel

Postby Down the well » 12 Feb 2011, 12:08

How about not boring me with empty description?
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Re: Habit: skipping parts or passages in a novel

Postby Margo » 12 Feb 2011, 13:08

I can understand your reaction, Steve, but that assumes that writers have not padded the story. Take from writers, it happens. I mentioned in another post that I skip certain travel descriptions a particular writer puts into her books. I didn't skip these the first few times. They were dry and boring and not that well written, unlike the passages where she was dealing with conflict between characters or (some of her best stuff) internal conflict. But I stress, I did read these passages the first several times they appeared in her series. The fact that they keep appearing... The fact that they are still not relevent to the story... The fact that they are description without context and outside the expression of character... That's a bigger problem. There are plenty of writers who don't have such passages in their books, and I've read a couple of books wherein the first 20 pages, 75 pages, even 150 pages could have been omitted without losing a darn thing.

From a writer's perspective it's INCREDIBLY important to know where readers start feeling the urge to skip ahead in a draft we've written. That's a teaching tool of great GREAT value.

Of course I should mention that literary fiction, unlike commerical fiction, is not a genre that lends itself to skipping head. The reader might miss the part where the little lint ball comes out of the navel. :P Just kidding.

Down the well wrote:How about not boring me with empty description?


LOL. [fist bump]
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Re: Habit: skipping parts or passages in a novel

Postby HillaryJ » 12 Feb 2011, 13:12

When I find myself skimming, or looking back over a page and not remembering having read it, I do try to slow down my reading. But, if I'm unable to concentrate on multiple passages, I likely won't finish a book. That's not to say it's not a good book, maybe just one that didn't appeal to me. Luckily I've been on a string of excellent reads lately, ones where I want to go slow and savor the writing.

When I go back to reread a book, I'll purposefully skip to certain parts, either looking for humor or delight or to analyze a scene that created a certain atmosphere that I might be trying for in my own writing.
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Re: Habit: skipping parts or passages in a novel

Postby Down the well » 12 Feb 2011, 13:34

Margo wrote:Of course I should mention that literary fiction, unlike commerical fiction, is not a genre that lends itself to skipping head. The reader might miss the part where the little lint ball comes out of the navel. :P Just kidding.


I just snorted coffee up my illiterate nose laughing at that.

HillaryJ wrote:Luckily I've been on a string of excellent reads lately, ones where I want to go slow and savor the writing.


Yes, this is what a good novel will do. I used the first paragraph of Lady MacBeth in another thread as an example of writing that drew me in. After quoting the paragraph I got sucked into the novel all over again -- as you said, savoring it as I read it a second time.
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Re: Habit: skipping parts or passages in a novel

Postby Guardian » 13 Feb 2011, 06:00

Usually the skipped parts are described as "long" or "boring" or having "too much information" or "not enough dialogue. I don't understand this habit of skipping, unless you're a student reading assignments and pressed for time. Otherwise, I'd say skipping passages is bordering on being illiterate."

I agree with your points, Steve. As I used to say; this is the result of the endless impatience which rules the present world. Everyone is demanding answers, everyone is trying to shape everything to their never existed taste, and they're getting bored too easily. Well, in my native country there is an ancient saying for this; only the blunt-minded is getting bored.

The problem is; people are getting bored on everything. And many writers are trying to adapt to this, as they're listening to these blogs which are telling these things like if their word would be the universal truth. Now, I've read dozens of novel betas in the last few months. The most surprising was; many novels are started on the very same way, with the very same or similar opening lines (I experienced in fantasy the most, but it's also started to appear in other genre too.). Many was the very same in almost every possible aspect. Some stories are told even the very same, just with different names and places. Oh, and my favorite; all of them is started with a cliche action (Because it's a must, right?). The only positive element in all these stories was the pacing, because of the lack of long descriptions. But nothing else.

Why is it important? As the true descriptions are almost completely missed, the world building is not existed at all, and the environment was blunt and dry. So every element which is usually making the difference between worlds and worlds is not existed. Only the pacing was excellent as there was no true descriptions, only in few cases. Then I asked the writer;

1. why did (s)he start the story on this way (with a cliche action)?
2. why did (s)he write the story on a really dry way, while I've seen few really good and colorful descriptions (So the writer do know much more, but by some reason (s)he is restricting his / her own talent by some unknown reason in the novel.)?
3. why did (s)he turn the novel to a cliche, while the concept is capable to achieve much more if (s)he would use proper descriptions, not just trendy one liners...

And the answer to every single question was; because otherwise the readers are getting bored. So, many novel is slowly turning to an unoriginal cliche, while many of these writers would have a chance to create much better works (As they have the talent for it.), but they're restricting their very own talent and imagination because of this "Spoil me, otherwise I'm getting bored.). The general problem is; nowadays there is no true difference between polite literature and penny dreadful. There is no difference between serious and easy reads. And what is worse, many writer want to spoil the already spoiled readers. But it's not our job to spoil people. Our job is to tell our stories and present our worlds.

I don't understand this habit of skipping, unless you're a student reading assignments and pressed for time.

People don't have a clue what they're missing with their skipping. Memorable, realistic and serious novels always had long and in many cases, the so called "boring" descriptions. Iain M. Banks novels, the Hornblower series by C.S. Forester, the H.M.S. Ulysses by Alistair MacLean are all really good examples. These are all very good novels. Easy and fun reads, such as my favorite Stainless Steel Rat by Harry Harrison had no long descriptions, but that one used a quite different tone and it's not required those descriptions at all because of it's style and presentation. But there is a huge difference between easy, soft novels and serious ones. Yet, many is telling us... write easy reads, dumb your work, otherwise we're getting bored. But in the reality, these people are simply not our target audience and they never will be.

Well, you can be a mainstream writer, who is acting like a genii caricature; fulfilling every whining, writing the very same what others do, on the very same style as others do. Or you can be the writer who you really are, using the style what is truly yours and you're writing everything as your story, your characters and your world desires; to give a unique experience and story for your readers.

Say no to skipping.

I agree. If you can't read one or two more pages, read penny dreadful instead.
Last edited by Guardian on 13 Feb 2011, 08:54, edited 3 times in total.
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Re: Habit: skipping parts or passages in a novel

Postby Down the well » 13 Feb 2011, 07:54

Seeing that I am likely both illiterate and blunt minded because I have been known to skip boring descriptions in novels, you can understand if I'm a little slow to see your point.

If someone skips the dry uninspired writing in a novel it is the reader who is at fault? But the writer who provided the bland, mind-numbing drivel is merely, what, misunderstood? People skip all the time, and not because they are in a hurry or because they are dimwitted, but because the writer failed to engage, at least with that particular reader.
Last edited by Down the well on 13 Feb 2011, 17:23, edited 1 time in total.
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Re: Habit: skipping parts or passages in a novel

Postby Guardian » 13 Feb 2011, 08:18

Down the well wrote:People skip all the time, and not because they are in a hurry or because they are dimwitted, but because the writer failed to engage, at least with that particular reader.

In this case I'm not belonging to the "people", because I never skip a single line in a novel. Yet, you're also trying to tell your personal opinion as if it would be the universal truth (This is what I mentioned in the my previous response.). Although some reader is damned lazy to use or can't use their imagination. I've met with this so many times (Here, I'm speaking in general, not about you.).

But the writer who provided the bland, mind-numbing drivel is merely, what, misunderstood?

Nowadays it's easy to point at others to cover our own incompetence, instead of admitting our failure (Again, I'm speaking in general, not about you. Just to avoid any misunderstanding.). In this case, it's easy to blame the writer for everything, while in many cases the source of the problem is not the writer, but the reader.

As a writer you can write anything you want, anytime you want. One condition; it has to be amazing. You're providing descriptions, because they're necessary by some reason otherwise they wouldn't be there. You're providing details to share something with the reader, share an experience or to tell a story. Our job is not to spoil the readers, but to share experiences and to tell stories. But this is the world, where everyone knows everything better then others (Usually without any true background, I must add).

If you're writing A, some reader may demand B, because they know everything better then the one who created the actual work. If you're writing B with details, some reader may demand C, because they skip pages as they do know those details are not serving any purpose, right at the time when they're reading the actual lines (Of course they're stating this as a fact without even reading the entire book. They never want to see how the story unfolds, but they say something, JUST to hear their voices. They're judging quickly just to hear their voices. Why? To feel themselves soooooooooo important.). Then when you're writing C, some reader is going to say... oh, my, what a cliche. Is it misunderstanding? No. It's cursed human nature.
Last edited by Guardian on 13 Feb 2011, 08:34, edited 3 times in total.
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Re: Habit: skipping parts or passages in a novel

Postby Down the well » 13 Feb 2011, 08:29

You've got some strange notions, Guardian. But I'll leave you to them. To each his own.
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Re: Habit: skipping parts or passages in a novel

Postby Guardian » 13 Feb 2011, 08:39

Down the well wrote:You've got some strange notions, Guardian. But I'll leave you to them. To each his own.

Strange notions are usually coming from lived experience. I just tell what I experienced in the last years and how I see these things after all this. As always I can be wrong, and maybe I'm damn wrong in this case (Just as sometimes I was wrong in other things.). But right now this is how I see things, based on my own experience.
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Re: Habit: skipping parts or passages in a novel

Postby Down the well » 13 Feb 2011, 11:17

Guardian wrote:I see these things after all this. As always I can be wrong, and maybe I'm damn wrong in this case (Just as sometimes I was wrong in other things.). But right now this is how I see things, based on my own experience.


I don't necessarily think you're wrong, but you aren't right either. There are probably more shades of gray at play in the matter.

When I get feedback from a reader and they tell me their eyes started to glaze over at a certain passage, I don't call them stupid or unimaginative for not "getting it." I look at the writing to see if the bland, mind-numbing words that lost their attention could be improved. Or better yet, cut out altogether. And sometimes I realize it is neither the fault of the writer nor the reader but a matter of differing tastes and styles that simply don't mesh, and I can live with that as a reader and a writer.
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Re: Habit: skipping parts or passages in a novel

Postby Dankrubis » 13 Feb 2011, 12:47

When I first saw Steve's post here, I thought, 'Wow, this is a non-issue. Who in the hell skips portions of the book they're reading? Nobody does that.'

But apparently I'm wrong. For the love of god, why? If passages are boring you, just put that sucker down and grab another book. You people fast-forward films, too?
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Re: Habit: skipping parts or passages in a novel

Postby Down the well » 13 Feb 2011, 13:25

Dankrubis wrote: For the love of god, why? If passages are boring you, just put that sucker down and grab another book. You people fast-forward films, too?


Well, yeah, that's usually what happens. I'll skim ahead to see if it improves, and if it doesn't I put the book down and move on. Life is short. There have been a few exceptions, though, where I've skipped over dry description and found myself engaged with the rest of the novel.
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Re: Habit: skipping parts or passages in a novel

Postby Margo » 13 Feb 2011, 22:11

Dankrubis wrote:For the love of god, why? If passages are boring you, just put that sucker down and grab another book.


Why is this hard to understand? There are writers who get carried away with the poetry of their own prose but otherwise are great writers. There are writers who rush to meet deadlines or to write 2-3 novels and a couple of novellas a year. There are writers who think that because they are established, no editor should ever touch their work again. Few books are perfect. Some flaws are minor, and reader can skim over a passage of description that goes on longer than necessary or a sex scene that gets too graphic or too kinky, etc, and still love the rest of the book. Some flaws will make the same reader put a book down, never pick it back up, and never read another book by that author again.

Blaming the reader for lack of engagment is pointless and egotistical. If writers don't like readers skipping long descriptions and sex scenes meant to get the writer off (with little concern for reader experience) the answer is simple, two words: write better.

That said, it's impossible to please every reader. Some will hate what others love. Two more words: move on.
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Re: Habit: skipping parts or passages in a novel

Postby Dankrubis » 13 Feb 2011, 23:56

Margo wrote:Why is this hard to understand? There are writers who get carried away with the poetry of their own prose but otherwise are great writers. There are writers who rush to meet deadlines or to write 2-3 novels and a couple of novellas a year. There are writers who think that because they are established, no editor should ever touch their work again. Few books are perfect. Some flaws are minor, and reader can skim over a passage of description that goes on longer than necessary or a sex scene that gets too graphic or too kinky, etc, and still love the rest of the book. Some flaws will make the same reader put a book down, never pick it back up, and never read another book by that author again.

Blaming the reader for lack of engagment is pointless and egotistical. If writers don't like readers skipping long descriptions and sex scenes meant to get the writer off (with little concern for reader experience) the answer is simple, two words: write better.

That said, it's impossible to please every reader. Some will hate what others love. Two more words: move on.


Nope, still don't understand it. Sure, I guess there can be scattered, dull sections in an otherwise glorious novel, but I'd never imagine just skimming them to get to the more engaging parts. In fact, I think people that skip are doing themselves a disservice.

-Say you skip a part because it's slow and has too much description. Maybe that was done on purpose, so the next section where the really crazy thing happens, it now has more impact. The person who read everything is now getting the most enjoyment out of the text, and the person who skipped is less involved.

-Maybe you're wrong, maybe the words you're skipping are actually good. Maybe only in reading them you'd see, wow, that was a kick-ass turn of a phrase. Holy crap, nice metaphor. I'm gonna think of that every time that character comes up now. Etc.

-Or hell, you know what can improve your writing? Reading bad writing and figuring out why it's bad.

But ya know what, admittedly, I'm a bit of a purist. I think art should be viewed wholly as intended. I refuse to watch any movies if they aren't in their original aspect-ratio. I refuse to miss even the first few minutes. And the thought of skipping passages has never crossed my mind.

But ya never know, maybe if I read a bunch of shitty novels I'd change my tune.
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