Lesson Nineteen from a Manuscript Red Line: Don’t annoy the reader

I giggled when I typed out this heading.  Everyone knows not to annoy their readers, RIGHT?  But can you tell when you might be doing just that?

For an intro into where these tips are coming from, please see my post: A Full Manuscript Rejection, or a Gold Mine?  You can also click “Rant Worthy Topics” in my right navigation bar.  Choose “Gold Mine Manuscript” to see all the lessons to date.

In the Gold Mine Manuscript, before the extraneous POV’s were taken out, the Reader had more information than the Main Character.  The reason this was bad, is that the reader was fully aware of Bad Guy #2, and knew her name.  (Let’s call her Cindy).  So, a hundred or so pages later, when a character starts talking about “Cindy” and the main character says “Who’s Cindy?”  We get that “Duh” feeling followed by a “Been there, done that” when someone explains to him who “Cindy” is.

The publisher said “We need to know what he knows, not what everybody else knows”.

Now in the revise, the Main Character actually witnesses a scene with “Cindy” in it early in the novel.  (although he doesn’t know it’s Cindy yet.)  So, at least he’s seen her and has an idea of who she is.  I haven’t seen how the author works this part out, yet.

The first time I read the passage that the publisher had a problem with, I thought: “I know this already” but I understood the need for another character to tell the MC what was going on.  It was redundant though, and it didn’t feel right.  The new revision, with fewer POVs, and the MC discovering more on his own, should help work around little things like this.

The best thing to do, is not let any one character know more than your Main Character… if it is something that he or she will eventually have to find out.   You don’t want to be in a position of having to bore your reader even for a line or two, while you bring your Main Character up to speed.

Jennifer Eaton


11 responses to “Lesson Nineteen from a Manuscript Red Line: Don’t annoy the reader

  1. Pingback: Lesson Thirty from a Manuscript Red Line: Finale! Summing it all up | Jennifer M Eaton

  2. I’ll be editing for a while. Thanks Jennifer!

  3. A good reminder. Thanks for this tip. I will remember this for my own writing. 🙂

  4. Looking forward to that re-write. I am ready to bask in your brilliance!

  5. Marie Gilbert

    good advice to consider. thank you

  6. Ah the winds of blog lessons. WANA 1011 classmate here. Yesterday finished blocking out an antagonist, who the protagonist, so far, knows nothing about, and I was thinking about bringing Antag. in, with an evil gaze, in the last chapter, as a kind of puppet master and a lead-in to a sequel. Might have to rethink that … Thanks for the tip.
    Hey, is the snow on your blog slowing your computer down? My laptop got kind of sputtery, but not sure if the snow caused it.

  7. Great topic (again) Jennifer! My first (unsold!) ms involved a penny stock scam. It was cathartic for me b/c the mentor who helped me take my small company public on the Denver Penny Stock Market suffered no consequences when he later sabotaged and “tubed” the company. In my book, I got to put him in jail.

    I waxed not-so-poetic about the ins-and-outs of the penny stock market. Even had some off-stage scenes w/out the POV character so I could delve into the heart of what I wanted to share (Look at me! I know all about penny stocks and insider lingo!), but my readers didn’t care to know. Yawn. They knew the FBI Investigator and my protag wanted to get into bed (together).

    One question. When my MC and Hero play prominent roles, there are slivers of back story for the Hero slipped into his POV scenes. The key is to have that sliver expanded for the reader when the MC is present, right? Let the reader find out when the MC discovers what “lurks beneath the surface of that sliver of glass.” I’ll keep that stored in my noggin so I don’t have to “invent” an explanatory narrative or dialog.

    • Yes, Gloria, it is fine to give background information that is appropriate to the point of view. Just be careful to not “Info Dump It” For instance, don’t write:

      “Hey, Gloria, remember that time five years and three months ago in the middle of September when I was involved in insider trading scandal and framed my boss to take the blame for it?”

      “Oh, yeah,” Gloria winked. “That was great fun. Especially when we had that drag car race through the parking lot where Aunt Jenny got covered in mud.”

      “Wow, great times.”

      Tee Hee… that was totally stream of consciousness, and yes, horrible and meant to be, but you’d be surprised at how many betas I read that have stuff like this in them that people are wondering why they are not getting published.

      Ease the back story in slowly and carefully, and don’t push it. It should feel very natural.

  8. I have to admit, tightening down to 2 – 3 POVs has really tightened up this issue in my MS. There was no way around it. Now it is clear what Eric, David and Charlotte know and when. It has been a rather challenging revision, but one well worth making.