Six Ways to Lose Readers Fast

Photo by cristiano_betta on Flickr.

Authors! Tired of positive reviews? Want to lose your audience fast? Here’s a handy guide to ensuring readers will put down your work and never pick it up again!

1. What’s the rush?

There’s no need to introduce the central conflict of the story for at least seventy pages. Readers appreciate “immersion” in your world, so include several chapters of the characters walking around, greeting people, showing up places, and describing their own environment to themselves — maybe even out loud. Set your opening in a tension-free environment, like a nice country fair or a drama-free family dinner. Also, make sure the main character gets in touch with his or her feelings about the things that aren’t happening.

2. Lose the plot.

If the central conflict of your story suddenly becomes muddled and unclear, just have characters talk about it. A lot. Speculate about possible futures at length. Don’t introduce any new stimuli, just let the characters hash it out over coffee. Make sure your readers don’t miss an instant of their painstaking discussion. Make sure you create a situation where there’s no ticking clock or external pressure — that’ll just get in the way of your character’s conversations. Don’t stop until you’ve covered every possible permutation of the emerging circumstances. Readers love that.

3. Exposition. Exposition EVERYWHERE.

There is nothing a reader enjoys more than a juicy twelve-ton slab of description. Go on, give that sunrise a page and a half all its own. You’ve earned it. Catalog the entire contents of your protagonist’s room. It reveals character! Relate the entire history of the characters’ home town. Stephen King would go on about Maine for a thousand pages at a time, and he’s a zillionaire. And if you need to set up a relationship, make sure the reader knows the entire history of each character, preferably starting with their childhood or even their birth. It’s all about context. Don’t get all breakneck like Dostoevsky or Dickens. Those guys were crazy.

4. Don’t answer premise.

First, establish the theme of your story and the narrative question you intend to answer. Then, halfway through, quietly forget about it. Readers will praise you for your cleverness. You’re defying expectations! So your protagonist just sort of forgets about his goal. So a looming threat kind of fizzles out because it was too complex to try to resolve. So a burgeoning romance vanishes without a trace because you lost interest. Whatever! It’s all about the journey, so who cares what the destination might have been?

5. Preach it!

Your book is important. It has a serious message, so make sure people don’t miss it. Get out that bullhorn and blast your pedagogy from every chapter heading and conflict resolution. Turn those who disagree with the political or cultural views of the protagonist into one-dimensional idiot monsters. Gloss over any inconvenient flaws in your protagonist’s ideology. Your goal is not entertainment, but conversion. You’re enlightening the ignorant masses!

6. Grammar? This isn’t school!

Editing is for squares and people who don’t have a style. You’ve got a style, man. James Joyce made up words willy-nilly! e.e. cummings didn’t capitalize the letters of his name, so why should you capitalize anything? Spelling is just The Man telling you how to arrange letters — plus, there’s that one study showing how you can scramble up letters in words and people will still understand them! Surely no one will think you’re an obnoxious dolt if you do that. You’re a rebel iconoclast and you’ve got no time for apostrophes.

Yes, I am in a sarcastic mood today. So, readers. Anything I missed?