Habit: skipping parts or passages in a novel

Recommendations, discussions, and odes to your favorites
Guardian
Posts: 563
Joined: September 29th, 2010, 4:36 pm
Location: Somewhere between two realms
Contact:

Re: Habit: skipping parts or passages in a novel

Post by Guardian » February 24th, 2011, 9:14 am

TimSusman wrote:I don't know that there's anything wrong with skipping, particularly.
I know one. As a reader, how do you know that the part what you're skipping is not important? Actually I would be curious for this. i.e.: At point A you start to skip five pages, because you feel the next five is not going to contain anything useful, so you want to reach point B as you strongly believe there is nothing between A and B. But what is happening if there is an AA and AAA between A and B and later A+AA+AAA+B is necessary to understand point C? You'll know only A+B when you reach C but that won't give you the chance to understand point C at all. Then what? You're going to blame the writer as you can't understand a trivial point C, while you was the one who actually skipped the necessary pages.

Margo
Posts: 1712
Joined: April 5th, 2010, 11:21 am
Contact:

Re: Habit: skipping parts or passages in a novel

Post by Margo » February 24th, 2011, 10:53 am

Claudie wrote:"Tension on every page" ? Do this, and there will be no skipping.
I agree 150% with this. The problem, I think, is that most people aren't familiar with tension in a writing sense. The techniques aren't all that obvious, though some writers are lucky enough to understand it intuitively. Don Maass used to teach a whole 4-day workshop on nothing but tension...right down to the level of micro-tension, tension in every sentence. Everyone there when I was walked out with their brains completely fried, even more so than the 7-day BONI workshop that had us scheduled for classes or group meals or crit workshops from 8am to 10pm (with some breaks during the afternoon).
TimSusman wrote:I don't know that there's anything wrong with skipping, particularly. One person in the forums compared it to sex scenes--and I think sex scenes, done well, should be as important to the story and as engaging as well-done description. But if it's something that makes you uncomfortable, in a sexual way or a violent way (come to think of it, I might have skipped over some graphic torture scenes in books that I didn't want to read), then I think you're showing some trust and faith in the author to say, "Okay, we don't agree on the level of detail you needed to show in this one scene, but I still believe in the story." Because I do know people who would come to one objectionable scene and toss away the book.
This sums up a lot of my feelings quite nicely. I love Jacqueline Carey's Kushiel series. A sex scene involving an aspect that literally made me a little nauseated left me with two options...skip that scene or stop reading the whole book and probably the rest of the series. Do we want to tell the readers to read every.single.word. or hit the pavement?
TimSusman wrote:It comes down to this: reading a book is a partnership between reader and author. If the best way you can participate in that book is to skip certain passages, then that's fine. As a writer, you hope to write something that everyone will like, but I know that's not possible, and I would much rather hear, "I had to skip a couple passages that were too long/too graphic" than "I got stuck on this one passage and couldn't finish the book."
I have the same attitude about partnership. I can writing all I want, but without the reader I'm a violinist without a violin. Sheet music is nice on a theoretical level, but the music is what I'm after.
Guardian wrote:
TimSusman wrote:I don't know that there's anything wrong with skipping, particularly.
I know one. As a reader, how do you know that the part what you're skipping is not important? Actually I would be curious for this. i.e.: At point A you start to skip five pages, because you feel the next five is not going to contain anything useful, so you want to reach point B as you strongly believe there is nothing between A and B. But what is happening if there is an AA and AAA between A and B and later A+AA+AAA+B is necessary to understand point C? You'll know only A+B when you reach C but that won't give you the chance to understand point C at all. Then what? You're going to blame the writer as you can't understand a trivial point C, while you was the one who actually skipped the necessary pages.
As someone who doesn't skip passages, you are a little off about how it actually works. If I hit a passage that loses me (for whatever reason - lack of tension is a good catch-all term that covers most reasons people start skimming), I will skim down a paragraph or two and actively start reading again to see if the passage I'm having problems with has changed or ended. If not, I'll skip a third or half a page and try again. I don't know anyone who starts a paragraph of disembodied description and flips forward 5 pages. If there have been numerous plot issues, people might slip to the end of the book to see if that is better presented. If so, it's more likely they will go back and start again where they left off.

However, it doesn't matter if they skipped 15 pages. It matters that it isn't engaging. I don't care how important the scene is to the plot. If it isn't engaging in at least a minimum level, I'm not going to read it. Nor am I going to feel guilty for refusing to read writing that can't be bothered to address that basic level or expectation and tension. Should I feel guilty for going to a restaurant and not eating a meal I don't like? Is that disrespectful to the chef?
Urban fantasy, epic fantasy, and hot Norse elves. http://margolerwill.blogspot.com/

Guardian
Posts: 563
Joined: September 29th, 2010, 4:36 pm
Location: Somewhere between two realms
Contact:

Re: Habit: skipping parts or passages in a novel

Post by Guardian » February 24th, 2011, 12:30 pm

Margo wrote:If I hit a passage that loses me (for whatever reason - lack of tension is a good catch-all term that covers most reasons people start skimming), I will skim down a paragraph or two and actively start reading again to see if the passage I'm having problems with has changed or ended. If not, I'll skip a third or half a page and try again.
Ah, I see your point, but in this case you're not skipping pages, just certain paragraphs. That's a huge difference. But I do know some people who is actually skipping pages (3-5 pages), instead of using that method what you're using. I presented this extreme scenario (And based on your "skipping pages", I also thought you're doing this. But you're just skipping paragraphs, not pages.)
If it isn't engaging in at least a minimum level, I'm not going to read it.
Yes, it has to be amazing and engaging, but as I written a page earlier, you can't make each of your paragraphs to the same engaging as others. There will be always weaker points; there is no exception. Although I wanted to ask this question yesterday; what is happening if a passage is just seemingly a passage, but it's serving a secondary role what is revealed later? I'm curious for this as I used to give secondary meaning to many things, sometimes even for passages (One of my latest experiments in my third WIP. Yeah, I know. I'm digging the grave of that WIP with this. :) ).

Margo
Posts: 1712
Joined: April 5th, 2010, 11:21 am
Contact:

Re: Habit: skipping parts or passages in a novel

Post by Margo » February 24th, 2011, 2:09 pm

Guardian wrote:Yes, it has to be amazing and engaging, but as I written a page earlier, you can't make each of your paragraphs to the same engaging as others. There will be always weaker points; there is no exception. Although I wanted to ask this question yesterday; what is happening if a passage is just seemingly a passage, but it's serving a secondary role what is revealed later? I'm curious for this as I used to give secondary meaning to many things, sometimes even for passages (One of my latest experiments in my third WIP. Yeah, I know. I'm digging the grave of that WIP with this. :) ).
Scenes should vary in intensity and tension, with a general ratcheting up of both as the story progresses toward the climax. If you imagine intensity in a scale of 1-10 (I'm totally stealing this from James Scott Bell's PLOT AND STRUCTURE), a novel should have only one or two scenes of 9 or 10, maybe three or four scenes at 8, but no scenes below a 5. That's where readers start dropping off (among other places), the aftermath scene of nothing but predictable introspection or the clinical description of the landscape as a character drives from one place to the next, where the tension has dropped not from a 7 to a 5.5 but from a 7 to a 2.

One of the problems is that some writers haven't yet encountered the idea that tension/conflict doesn't mean non-stop gun fights and car chases and screaming arguments (action is not conflict, as my mantra goes). I think you know this. Tension can occur in a conversation with no raised voices, no insults, no threats. It can exist in subtext, in what is not being said. It can exist in a setting description that speaks to the internal conflict of the POV character. It doesn't need explosions and sweeping events and excitement excitement excitement!!!

So what if the passage seems unimportant and the reader skips it when it has at least a secondary level of importance? I still don't think that matters. So long as you keep the tension level at 5 or above, most readers will stick with it (unless there is a taste issue - they don't like the style or voice or something that is more a personal taste than a common expectation). If the tensions falls, it doesn't matter how important the information is. It's not something that will draw the reader in and hold them in that guided meditative state.
Urban fantasy, epic fantasy, and hot Norse elves. http://margolerwill.blogspot.com/

Guardian
Posts: 563
Joined: September 29th, 2010, 4:36 pm
Location: Somewhere between two realms
Contact:

Re: Habit: skipping parts or passages in a novel

Post by Guardian » February 24th, 2011, 2:50 pm

Margo wrote:One of the problems is that some writers haven't yet encountered the idea that tension/conflict doesn't mean non-stop gun fights and car chases and screaming arguments (action is not conflict, as my mantra goes). I think you know this.
Yes. I'm also writing all my WIPs with less action, but with more tension and conflict. In my opinion physical action, arguments and other similar elements should be the very last option to create conflict and tension between characters or to bring tension into a world. Physical action may occur, but personally I used to create the tension with mystery instead. i.e.: The first real fight in my WIP's first volume, where actually the MC is fighting, as she must fight, is around... page 200 or 250? Before that... there is only ten or maybe less pages of true psychical action which revolves around the MC, but she is not fighting in that at all. Until that time I'm operating with mysteries and similar events to create tension and conflict in the world, and I use internal conflicts for the MC.
Tension can occur in a conversation with no raised voices, no insults, no threats. It can exist in subtext, in what is not being said. It can exist in a setting description that speaks to the internal conflict of the POV character. It doesn't need explosions and sweeping events and excitement excitement excitement!!!
I hate unnecessary explosions and "out of nowhere" sweeping events. Internal conflict is one of my favorites. One of my favorite chapters in my WIP's third volume is based completely on the MCs internal conflict. It's also became the darkest of all and it's also the longest chapter in my trilogy (Although that chapter has the most psychical action of all, but the psychical action is actually playing a great role and supporting the internal conflict, which is the primary element in that chapter.).
So what if the passage seems unimportant and the reader skips it when it has at least a secondary level of importance? I still don't think that matters. So long as you keep the tension level at 5 or above, most readers will stick with it (unless there is a taste issue - they don't like the style or voice or something that is more a personal taste than a common expectation). If the tensions falls, it doesn't matter how important the information is. It's not something that will draw the reader in and hold them in that guided meditative state.
So it can be solved with a little balance. Okay. Got it. Thank you very much for your explanation. This helps a lot.

Claudie
Posts: 707
Joined: June 9th, 2010, 3:57 pm
Location: Quebec
Contact:

Re: Habit: skipping parts or passages in a novel

Post by Claudie » February 24th, 2011, 4:09 pm

Guardian wrote:Try to add tension to every page when your work is around 1200. It can be done when you're writing 300 pages. But when the work is longer, some pages will lack of tension and actually you can't do anything against it. You can reduce it's numbers, sure, but there won't be a tension on every possible page. It's like figuring out around 1200 smaller twists what you add to each pages. Well... let's rephrase this statement a bit... you can add tension, but there is will be a difference between the level of tension and tension.
Margo pointed it out already, but I agree that you won't have the same level of tension everywhere. My understanding of tension on every page isn't to always have a big, obvious conflict. Let me see if I can throw a few possibilities out there:

- Physical action
- Dialogue between characters with different goals
- Emotional conflict
- Uncharacteristic reaction (surprise your reader, even slightly, and they'll stick around)
- Setting that echoes with what the character is living
- Mystery (anything that raises question)
- Description that sends a tense mood

To be honest, I don't skip when 1-2 lines are uninteresting. If it's been two pages since you've said anything to perk my interest, though, I do the same as Margo. I skip a few paragraphs and check again. Oh, and I keep an eye out for one-line paragraphs and dialogues. They're red flags of interesting things happening.
"I do not think there is any thrill [...] like that felt by the inventor as he sees some creation of the brain unfolding to success... Such emotions make a man forget food, sleep, friends, love, everything." -- Nikola Tesla

Margo
Posts: 1712
Joined: April 5th, 2010, 11:21 am
Contact:

Re: Habit: skipping parts or passages in a novel

Post by Margo » February 24th, 2011, 4:31 pm

Claudie wrote:Let me see if I can throw a few possibilities out there:

- Physical action
- Dialogue between characters with different goals
- Emotional conflict
- Uncharacteristic reaction (surprise your reader, even slightly, and they'll stick around)
- Setting that echoes with what the character is living
- Mystery (anything that raises question)
- Description that sends a tense mood
If I might mess with your list a bit?

- Physical action with emotional conflict
- Dialogue between characters with different goals and emotional conflict
- Emotional conflict
- Uncharacteristic reaction (surprise your reader, even slightly, and they'll stick around) to emotional conflict
- Setting that echoes with what the character is living and his emotional conflict
- Mystery (anything that raises question) that plays on an emotional conflict
- Description that sends a tense mood that plays on emotional conflict

BUT NOT primary emotions.
[Gives the Maassketeer salute.]
Urban fantasy, epic fantasy, and hot Norse elves. http://margolerwill.blogspot.com/

Claudie
Posts: 707
Joined: June 9th, 2010, 3:57 pm
Location: Quebec
Contact:

Re: Habit: skipping parts or passages in a novel

Post by Claudie » February 24th, 2011, 5:19 pm

Margo wrote:If I might mess with your list a bit?
*laughs* Mess (or should I say... Maass?) as much as you want, Margo! I think you're a fair bit ahead of me on this topic. ;)
"I do not think there is any thrill [...] like that felt by the inventor as he sees some creation of the brain unfolding to success... Such emotions make a man forget food, sleep, friends, love, everything." -- Nikola Tesla

Margo
Posts: 1712
Joined: April 5th, 2010, 11:21 am
Contact:

Re: Habit: skipping parts or passages in a novel

Post by Margo » February 24th, 2011, 9:37 pm

Claudie wrote:*laughs* Mess (or should I say... Maass?) as much as you want, Margo!
Ha! I love that. Hmmm, how many ways could I use Maass as a verb? [totters off to her word processor...contemplating a template]
Urban fantasy, epic fantasy, and hot Norse elves. http://margolerwill.blogspot.com/

Post Reply

Who is online

Users browsing this forum: No registered users and 1 guest