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Speed Bumps

Speeds bumps are anything that force a reader to slow down as they journey through your story. Examples are sentences that don’t make sense, items they need to Google, and things written in languages they don’t speak.

The goal of a master storyteller is to keep your reader focused on the plot. Things like funky formatting can pull focus. You can do it, but why bother? Gimmicks usually mar enjoyment rather than enhance it. There are books published with dashes instead of quotation marks and the like. I will never know if they were good stories because the format was a turnoff. 

Let’s address one of my personal pet peeves: italics. 

There are rules about when you should use italics. One or two words, or a few sentences conveying a character’s thoughts, are acceptable. However, pages of them are a chore to wade through. I skim read or page past them.

I have polled other readers about this and received a mixed response. Some didn’t mind reading pages of italics. Others agreed they skipped over or skimmed them. 

A novel by one of my favorite authors featured entire chapters centering on a past story crafted in italics interwoven with the present story in normal type. I skimmed the first italics chapter then skipped the rest. I’ll never know if the past story was interesting. I wasn’t in the mood to work that hard and the present story flowed without them. 

You can effectively weave a present day story with a past story without resorting to italics by transitioning into and out of the passages properly. I have seen it done both ways and much prefer an effective transition over italic type or odd formatting. You could also use chapter headings to cue the reader to the transition. 

If your manuscript uses long passages of italics to convey past story, dreams, internal dialogue, etc., try replacing them with skillful transitions.

A writer’s goal is to give the reader a seamless ride, not a journey full of speed bumps and plot holes. Don’t make them work too hard. You might lose them along the way.

1 comment:

  1. Thanks for posting another great blog. I love italics in small doses, but I agree with your thoughts on using them for longer passeges or even a chapter.