Blogger: Cynthia Ruchti
Not long ago, I read a mildly interesting nonfiction book that promised more than it delivered and that derailed halfway through.
I could probably stop there. MILDLY interesting. Didn’t deliver. Derailed. Not what you want to see in a review. Not what readers are prone to linger over or recommend to their book-loving friends.
I knew what the author said was the point–according to the introduction. Despite a few bright spots worth noting along the journey, it didn’t take me where it indicated the book was headed. And the narrative limped along in places because the illustrative stories didn’t illustrate anything. They stood alone like random curiosities on a clearance table at a secondhand shop.
Rather than each element of the book–each chapter, scene, anecdote, conclusion–pointing to the book’s theme and reader takeaway (overtly or subtly), the elements seemed like puzzle pieces grabbed from different puzzle boxes. They didn’t fit together and couldn’t create a cohesive image.
You and I have likely read novels with the same issue. They leave the reader with an unsatisfied “What’s the point?”
Writing is communicating. If a reader reaches the last page of our book and isn’t sure what the book was about, or what conclusion the author urged the reader to draw, or how having read the book would enlighten, inspire, or inform, then we have failed to communicate.
What can cause our readers to miss the point?
Will your readers get the point if you clog the readers’ mental pathway with extraneous thoughts, stories, characters, facts?
Writers who communicate well clear the path for understanding.
Will your readers get the point if you lose your way somewhere between Page One and The End?
Can we trace an undercurrent of purposefulness throughout the manuscript? If a chair is in the room, why is it there? If an historical event is mentioned, why? What’s its connection or link?
Will your readers get the point if you spoon-feed your readers rather than equipping them with a spoon, fork, and knife, if necessary?
The reader will bring his or her baggage, experience, prejudices, judgments, wounds, and personality to the reading process. Good writing is aware of those hindrances to communication and guides the reader to feed themselves rather than forcing truth down their throats. You should, you ought, you must are methods that attempt to cram ideas into a tight-lipped mouth.
If we don’t have one.
You set out to write a thriller set in New York in 1919. That’s it. That was your goal? Look again. There’s a point in there somewhere, or there should be. Is the point that 1919 was technologically and circumstantially different from 2019, but not so different emotionally or morally? Or is the point that this current “age of anxiety” is merely an updated version of past “ages” of anxiety? What does your story communicate?
Your memoir that shows your progress from immigrant to CEO is for what purpose? To show how clever and resilient you were? Or to encourage others to recognize the value of cleverness, resourcefulness, and resilience in their own life stories?
Good writers learn to evaluate every element of their storytelling–whether fiction or nonfiction–with this simple but communication altering question. “What’s the point?”
If the author can’t figure it out, no reader will. If the author is well aware, and uses that as a guide in the writing, readers will notice and be grateful, even if they disagree.