24 Nov

Cognitive Breakage

What pulls the reader out of your story?

From critters.org, I certainly have read many efforts that caused the literary equivalent of whiplash. Reading along and suddenly, a voice from the background says, “Like a hunter*,” and my beleaguered brain locks up. Who said that? Was that character always there, but I just didn’t notice? Or my personal favorite, the main character just happens to be carrying a sonic screwdriver or whatever perfectly fits the need. Where did they get that? Another that gets me involves the unreasonable reaction. One character bids another a cheerful “good morning,” to which the second character turns red in fury and shouts, “get bent, you lout!”

Sometimes a plot can forge past those little hiccups, such as the Hunger Games books when I read them. I found myself constantly flipping back paragraphs and even pages to try and figure out what I missed. Best not count on your story evoking the same popular response.

Don’t wreck the train.

How do you keep your readers in your story? Do you know? Do you care? Those two very different questions greatly affect a person’s writing, and different things determine the ultimate root of the problem. In the first case, a lack of knowledge contributes to the problem, but the existence of knowledge doesn’t necessarily provide a solution. The second case determines that one–just knowing doesn’t help, but rather the desire to make it better.

It depends on the author’s attitude.

When I write, I can decide that I know best and the other’s just don’t get me, or I can accept that I might not be the best writer in the universe and admit the possibility that I’m not communicating everything I intended. Could it be that taking feedback makes the difference between passable writers and good writers? Might an excellent writer ruthlessly deny his or her own pride to the advantage of ‘getting it across’ to the reader?

If it causes a cognitive break, then it is my problem to either treat or tolerate, not reader’s.

* My highschool friends picked that line out of the movie Predator. The soon to be prey members of the cast stood around the fire discussing just how the space alien had been hunting them down. From off camera and without the, shall we saw, most intelligent sounding voice, one of them comments, “Like a hunter.” Anytime someone really put their foot in their mouth, particularly in class, that line would go up like a chorus.