"Keeping the Reader Reading," Part 11
John Gardner, the author of GRENDEL, created the perfect analogy of writing in THE ART OF FICTION. He said that the writer creates a dream for the reader, and the writer must do nothing which wakes the reader up. Getting viewpoint right is a major part of keeping the reader within your dream.
Here are some other mistakes which will wake the reader up.
Author intrusion. The author uses language in such a way that the reader is aware of the reading and the author. If writing fiction is like photography, then author intrusion is the finger on the lens, the blurry focus, etc. The problem can be anything from writing that is too flowery or filled with too many obscure words to poor grammar or spelling. It can also be overuse of dialect or words made up for the world you create.
Wrong word choices. Pick strong verbs and avoid adverbs. Avoid "felt," "noticed," "seen," "thought," and other words like this. They distance the reader from the reality of the viewpoint character. Watch out for piled-on participial phrases and clauses which slow and break the rhythm of reading.
Repeating the character's name over and over again. Don't feel a need to constantly use the character's name in narrative. "He" or "she," is perfectly adequate except for clarity and the beginning of a scene. Name repetition reminds the reader that he is reading about a character, and it jerks him right out of that viewpoint character's head.
Overuse of characters addressing each other by name in dialogue. Don't constantly use names in dialogue. Listen to conversations and notice when people address each other by name. You won't hear many. Names are most often used at the beginning of a conversation as people greet each other. "Hello, Mary, how are you?" Or they're used to impart important or emotional information. "He's dead, Jim."
A plot that goes nowhere because the character has no goal. This is covered in my article, "How to Use Index Cards to Plot a Novel," so I won't go into it here.
Fight scenes that don't work or are meaningless to the plot. This is covered in my article, "How to Write Fight and Battle Scenes."