Friday, July 06, 2012

Our Unwritten Contract with the Reader

Did you know writers have a contract with our readers? We do, and today I'd like to share it with you.

Party of the first part—from here on referred to as THE READER
THE READER agrees to suspend belief and enter the fictional world that’s been created.

Party of the second part—from here on referred to as THE WRITER
THE WRITER agrees to do everything possible to facilitate THE READER remaining, undisturbed, within the storyworld.

What exactly does this legal jargon mean? Let me explain. Have you ever been reading a book and something startles you and you realize you actually felt like you were IN the story? It’s almost like you're merging from an alternate reality or even a dream.

I've heard this sensation referred to it as the fictional dream. I’ve also heard it referred to as the fictional bubble. Well, this fictional dream is a good thing for the reader and we, as THE WRITERS, want to avoid doing anything that can jar them from this dream world. Trust me, there are more than enough things in the real world to jar them awake. To facilitate this fictional dream means there are certain things we do or DON’T do, when we write, to make it easier for THE READER to stay undisturbed.
  • Use correct grammar. Glaring mistakes can jar THE READER awake, making them wonder why they even agreed to read this story.
  • Make your Point of View (POV) shifts clear and seamless. When you change POV make certain you have a good reason for doing so.
  • Use unobtrusive attributions, like said. Even better, use a speaker beat. 
  • Avoid overuse of misspelled words to indicate dialect. A little is fine, but once THE READER is familiar with the character’s voice, continuing makes the dialogue difficult to read.
  • Avoid italics when possible. An occasional italicized word for emphasis is fine, but line after line written in italics is hard on the eyes. Instead, try to write deeper from the character’s POV. This is sometimes called Deep POV.
  • Use all five senses when you write. This will bring the story to life for THE READER.

Following these simple guidelines can make it easier for THE READER to immerse themselves in our story.

Edie Melson is the bestselling author of Social Media Marketing for Writers and a devotional for military families, Fighting Fear: Winning the War at Home When Your Soldier Leaves for Battle. She is a prolific freelance writer, editor, and co-director of the Blue Ridge Mountains Christian Writers Conference, as well a faculty member at numerous others. Visit her popular writing blog, The Write Conversation at


Ane Mulligan said...

Excellent article, Edie. There's nothing I hate more than to be jerked out of a story by the author. :)

Edie Melson said...

Thanks, Ane, I feel the same way.

Lisa Jordan said...

Great advice, Edie! When I read novels where the author puts thoughts in italics and use attributions like she wondered or she thought, I'm done. Pulls me right out of the story. My writing brain takes over and ruins it for me.

Dina Sleiman said...

Loved this article.

Beth K. Vogt said...

An excellent article -- simple but oh so important ways to develop a vital relationship between authors and readers.

Pamela Williamson said...

Thank you, Edie, for this awesome article. It's such a clear and concise reminder. I am printing it out and taping it by my desk. Loved this!

Edie Melson said...

I know what you mean. I definitely read differently as a writer!

Edie Melson said...

Thanks for stopping by!

Edie Melson said...

Simple, but far from easy. You've edited enough of us to know!

Edie Melson said...

Thank you, I'm so glad you've found it helpful!

Melissa said...

Yes, yes, yes! I'm sharing this one for sure. Great post! :)