Creating a Memorable Reading Experience

blogger: Cynthia Ruchti

memorable reading experience Cynthia

Dinner with friends at a foodie-worthy restaurant. What could be better?

The lessons it taught about creating a memorable reading experience.


While visiting Nashville recently, two friends and I were privileged to enjoy what might well be our most memorable restaurant meal. That’s saying a lot, considering the foodie expertise of my knowledgeable friends. One had done her research in advance of the meal. She chose a restaurant with an intriguing menu and excellent reputation.

We started with grilled cucumbers in benne tahini flavored with tarragon and pomegranate. Yes. That’s what I thought, too. Grilled cucumbers? The flavor was exceptional. The melon salad with barrel-aged feta, lime, and basil offered us another round of oohs and aahs.

After that first course, our server cleared the plates, wiped down the table, and laid out fresh silverware for us. Soundlessly.

With elegant, smooth, slow movements, the server placed each piece of silverware on the dark wood table without making a sound. It was as if the clink of metal on wood would disturb our dining experience. He refilled our water glasses almost invisibly. He drew no attention to himself but still anticipated our every need. When unaware we were watching, the server prepared a nearby table in anticipation of diners who had not yet arrived. He used the same elegant, slow movements he’d used serving an occupied table. The integrity of his attitude toward his role–the care he took, his attention to detail–impressed. It enhanced our dining experience even more than the delectable entrees and the stunning beauty of the roasted plum sorbet served in a matte black bowl at the end of the exceptional meal.

Within hours, we were recommending the restaurant to others…and telling stories about the impression the restaurant, the food, and the server left on us.
create a memorable reading experience

What can authors do to enhance the reading experience for their readers? How can authors create a memorable reading experience?

Pay attention to detail.

Accurate historical details rather than cut-and-paste assumptions. Choosing each word carefully, so it doesn’t clink against the story background on which it’s laid. Caring about the depth of flavor in the writing. Not settling for “good enough” but striving for excellence.

Season judiciously.

Our memorable meal at the restaurant was marked by the absence of salt and pepper shakers. The assumption–an accurate one–was that the chef’s skill guaranteed that the meal was seasoned so well in the kitchen it would need no extra grain of salt or pepper. The food balanced beautifully on the head of a flavor pin.

A skilled writer does the same balance dance with words, word pictures, subplots, casts of characters, and takeaway points. Authors create memorable reading experiences when they season well, but judiciously. They learn the art of leaving out the excess and incorporating only necessary enhancements.

Meet readers’ needs without drawing attention to the author.

Just as our server met our needs without drawing attention to himself–Thank you, Scott!–whether writing fiction or nonfiction, an author makes the literary “meal” most satisfying without author intrusion. The focus remains on the meal, the friends or family gathered around the table, and the connection with the storytelling, not on the writer placing it before them.

Work with integrity whether anyone’s watching or not.

Will millions read your work? Thousands? One? What an impression it will make if your devotion to integrity in all writing disciplines–and in life–remains the same no matter who’s watching.

Can you mark a particular meal as a memorable dining experience? What made it exceptional? What can that teach you about creating a positive reading experience?


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  1. Well, now I know what a foodie is. Personally, I have two hard-and-fast culinary rules:
    1 – Be cautious if the meal’s still moving.
    2 – Tabasco sauce covers a multitude of sins
    And as for memorable meal, there was this time in Guatemala, and an iguana, and…oh, dear. NO ONE should EVER turn that shade of green!
    * In regard to details, I agree completely – nothing kills a historical quicker than an anachronism that the reader can recognize, and this applies to both to setting/ambience and language. You just can’t use ‘groovy’ in an Edwardian setting. (But by the same token, the stilted “Look at me, I’m Jane Austen!” writing style can also be pretty irritating…best to have an internally consistent style that represents the era but doesn’t ape the writing titans thereof.)
    * In regard to not drawing attention to the author, I’d agree, but there are exceptions…Richard Bach’s ‘Illusions’ is all the more charming and involving if you have come to know the narrator as the first-person author of three non-fiction works, ‘Stranger To The Ground’, Biplane’, and ‘Nothing By Chance’. The background, and the chance to sit in a dusk hayfield under the shade of a wing with an old friend becomes something magical.

  2. I remember eating in a Peruvian restaurant operated by a friend’s parents. The meal went on all evening, course after exotic course, delicacies that I recognized and flavors that were new to me. At the end of the evening the chef (my friend’s mother) embraced me, kissing me on both cheeks. It was an earth-bound foreshadow of the divine feasts God has prepared for me in his Word.

  3. Pat Iacuzzi says:

    My grandmother’s wonderful eastern European cooking; made from organic produce my grandparents raised on their farm.
    To be authentic whether we write fiction or nonfiction.
    Author…”The spelling with th arose in the 15th century, and perhaps became established under the influence of authentic.” From Middle English.
    Thank you, Cynthia.

    • Cynthia Ruchti says:

      Ah! Good writing doesn’t use “processed” ingredients. 🙂

    • Wanda Rosseland says:

      Oh, Pat! I just had to laugh at your “organic produce my grandparents raised on their farm.” We just called it “the garden.” LOL

      • Pat Iacuzzi says:

        My grandmother’s garden was in the front of the house. She loved roses, peonies etc. I was referring to the acre & half of farm produce they raised to be sold at market. (And that we enjoyed too 😉 We were so blessed to have wonderful organic foods, unlike today where they’re heavily processed and a lot of strong insecticides are used. We actually raised corn, beans and squash in the old Native American manner. Yep–there are herb gardens, orchards etc…glad you got to enjoy a garden too!

  4. My husband and I have been bemoaning the fact that “fine dining” has become a thing of the past. Even the pricier restaurants seem to be trending more casual. I LOVE getting dressed up to go out and enjoy exceptional service, but it’s hard to come by. Which, I think, makes delivering that type of service–whether at a restaurant or in a story–all the more memorable. Sounds like a prime opportunity to me!

  5. It is kind of nice, sometimes, when the cook comes out from his lair, turns a chair around, and sits with you for a bit.
    * There are some authors who do that; Nevil Shute is one, by making himself a first person ‘observer’ who occasionally pops up in the story. Jon Parshall and Anthony Tully, in their landmark “Shattered Sword”, the story of the Battle of Midway from the Japanese (and somethat revisionist) perspective, will occasionally give the reader casual and offbeat asides that make the book a pleasure to read.

    • Cynthia Ruchti says:

      AND…you have just described reader engagement! When authors engage with their readers on social media or in person (when possible), it’s in some ways the equivalent of a chef leaving the kitchen to sit with the patron or to come to the table to discuss the food offering. What a great word picture.

  6. Beautiful. What a delightful read.

  7. I enjoy being a foodie, and so always enjoy these analogies in the blog posts. Thanks Cynthia.

    To answer your questions I have selected one golden platter on which to offer my answer, one answer to you, and all those dining here today. It is this: In all the memorable meals I have had that pleased my palate and left me with delight and a desire to return in the future for more, no hacks were used; just as the memorable books that delighted me and left me wanting more.

  8. Anne Love says:

    Thanks for this Cynthia! Just what I needed.

  9. Mary Kay Moody says:

    What a treat to hear of your wonderful meal experience AND an exhortation to excellence. Your creativity is a great example and nudge, Cynthia. Thank you.

  10. This is such a beautiful comparison, Cynthia. My fine dining is limited to Disney World. But it is so fine. Be Our Guest … that’s my favorite dining place at Magic Kingdom. The napkins are shaped like roses. Each dining room provides a unique experience. Our favorite is the room where every few minutes, lightning strikes and thunder booms. The painting on the wall of the prince changes in a flash of lightning–a scratch reaches from side to side and one receives a quick glimpse of the beast. There is clanking and it’s loud, as it handles many people and children throughout, but I’m at the greatest place on earth with my beloved family and the food is wonderful with sweet and happy servers. *My crit group is helping me so much. They let me know when they’ve been thrown out of the story (too noisy with description or dialogue), and they’re showing me when I’ve missed opportunities for greatness, like showing a glimpse of my characters’ hearts. I’m so grateful. I think of my favorite authors … how I’m sold out to them through their inevitable, seldom found imperfections. I hope to have readers sold out to my heart one day, in spite of me.

  11. OK, now I have to know! What was the main course??? That sounds amazing and definitely brings out the necessary elements we want to have in our writing. Thank you, Cynthia!