1. aClem
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    aClem Active Member

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    How much patience can one expect from a reader?

    Discussion in 'General Writing' started by aClem, Aug 4, 2014.

    I tend to err, rather severely, on the side of thinking that readers have very little patience with material that doesn't move the story forward. What I see here in discussion after discussion is that readers, or at least the members here, have a LOT of patience for setting description(s) and character development.

    I submitted a chapter of a novel I was working on (and since abandoned) that was criticized for not spending more time on setting and in particular, character development in the very first chapter.

    It was my plan to let characters develop over time, rather than try to (semi) fully develop each character as the first order of business. Apparently my idea is not the way some writers/readers like books to be constructed.

    In any event, my next (theoretical, as always) project is a sci fi novel based on a catastrophe and the bulk of the narrative is how the characters deal with the catastrophe.

    Now, my question, more specifically, assuming the beginning were adequately well written, how much material would YOU PERSONALLY be willing or enjoy reading before the main plot driver surfaces? Knowing (from the title and cover, if nothing else) what's coming, would a chapter or two of character development and setting be too much, or does it totally not matter if the introductory passages are written well enough?
     
  2. ChickenFreak
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    ChickenFreak Contributing Member Contributor

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    I would need some plot driver, but not necessarily the main one, almost immediately.

    For example, in Agatha Christie's The Mirror Crack'd, we get a lot of information about Miss Marple, her home situation, her frustrations, the new housing estate, etc., etc., before we get even the faintest hint of the primary plot driver--that is, the murder. And since we're reading a murder mystery, we know perfectly well that we haven't reached the primary plot driver.

    And that's fine. Miss Marple's issues and frustrations are enough for us for a while, because they are plot, even though they're not The plot. If we were just told that Miss Marple has this housekeeper and that daily help and that gardener, blah blah blah, we wouldn't have any patience at all. But we see how the housekeeper annoys Miss Marple, and how Miss Marple badly wishes that she could do the gardening as she always has instead of trusting it to that gardener who doesn't share her priorities, and that's enough to keep us interested. And when Miss Marple sneaks out to have a look at the new housing estate, we're pleased at her outwitting that bossy housekeeper.

    I wish I had my copy of the book to see how long the background goes on, but my recollection is that there's quite a bit of it--at least two or three chapters before the big party at Gossington Hall where we quite reasonably expect the murder to happen. I do recall that the smaller plot elements around Miss Marple's life also get resolved--they aren't just thrown away when the big murder happens.

    So the setup has to be interesting, and it has to tie to the emotions of a character that we care about, and it really should involve plot, even if not The plot.
     
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  3. thirdwind
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    thirdwind Contributing Member Contest Administrator Reviewer Contributor

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    It really depends on the audience. People who only read Dan Brown and John Grisham may not have the patience to read pages of descriptions. On the flip side, you have people who read a bunch of philosophy (and other such works), so they have infinite patience for very long descriptions (you know you're in this group if you've finished Samuel Beckett's trilogy). As far as I'm concerned, I fall closer to the latter category. I think I have more patience than most for long descriptions and "unnecessary" sidetracks. Of course, this assumes that the writing is good. (Then again, I got bored after reading 100 pages of Proust, so maybe I'm giving myself too much credit.)
     
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  4. aClem
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    aClem Active Member

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    Yes, I'm sure there is a lot of variation among readers as to how much, and exactly what they will willingly or even happily read before coming on main point of the work. I have a limited amount of patience and I think it affects my writing in a way others find unsatisfying. I tend to presume readers are as impatient as I am, and my writing tends to be lacking in description and slow on character development. I'm working on it and when I get the first 2 chapters done I'll put it up in the workshop and let folks open fire on it.
     
  5. Empty Bird
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    Empty Bird Member

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    I agree with the following responses!

    But a lot of the time, in response to your question: Not much.

    I mean, think about it, you pick up a book in the store, spending your hard earned cash, and what you want is to get engrossed in the story, in the characters lives, etcetera, etcetera. I think that holding off from certain things in the plot when it's not necessary (I repeat: when it's not necessary) can tend to be frustrating to me and end up with me leaving the book.

    But then, I think you're building your character's life. Readers need to care about a character before something happens. If your books starts off with the first big plot-driver, say, it being that the main character's suddenly snatched from his family, although you have some sort of sympathy for the character, it's not half as dramatic as say if you start the story off with learning a bit about him- interesting things, right?- but things about him.

    The plot can move forward without straight away whacking a reader with something huge. I just think everything that is written and read should have either an impact on where the story's heading, or an impact on our perception of the characters.
     
  6. thirdwind
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    thirdwind Contributing Member Contest Administrator Reviewer Contributor

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    This is a perfectly valid assumption given that you should, in my opinion, be writing for like-minded individuals.
     
  7. jazzabel
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    jazzabel Contributing Member Contributor

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    I think description and characterisation can absolutely drive a story forward, this is the essence of writing skill. To keep moving forward as you add lots of rich detail about the world, setting and characters. Some writers chop it up, so when they describe, they just describe, when they are writing dialogue, it's just about dialogue etc. But the interesting way of doing it is characterisation in dialogue, description combined with characterisation, transitional descriptions, that's the gold that informs the reader whilst establishing mood and setting and moving the plot forward.
     
  8. bythegods
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    bythegods Banned

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    If the writing is to a high standard I'll give the book a chance to get going with the story - perhaps a chapter or three.
     
  9. FrankieWuh
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    FrankieWuh Active Member

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    Personally, as a reader, I fall in love with writing with bags of description and character. It's this kind of writing that is memorable, that takes me away from the page into other worlds, and it's that escapism from my own life that I love in fiction. I love the setup (I'm an apocalyptic junkie, so the setup to me is better than the payoff - or is the payoff) so I can go a while without needing a plot driver if it's well written.

    But, I cannot divorce myself from being a writer too, and while it shouldn't, the two contradict. I've worked with publishing house editors and they don't work on the premise that what they like reading is what a readership would like. I'm tired of comments like "the writing is very good, but does it move the story forward?" And yet for commercial reasons it is a valid comment because they are looking at the broadest audience possible for that book.

    Ultimately you have to ask yourself who you are writing this for before you sacrifice description and character in terms of plot and getting to the destination quicker. I doubt you'll find that answer in this forum, alas, as we are all writers, probably before we are readers and almost certainly not separate from each other. If you know your audience then you'll have your answer. If you are not bothered about who that audience is, I say write for yourself. It's more enjoyable but keep an open mind as to what success you expect once the work gets published.
     
  10. jannert
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    jannert Contributing Member Supporter Contributor

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    I think 'know your audience' is a good way to go. However, that doesn't mean you need to write for a particular audience, it means you need to FIND your audience. You can do this after you've written. Beta readers—the more the merrier—are a great way to give you a notion of who likes and who doesn't like your writing style.

    Lots of readers out there enjoy reading descriptive passages, provided they have life and offer reader immersion in the story, and are not just a list of physical aspects of an environment. These people probably still read and love the rich 'classics.' Other people can't stand this sort of thing. They want to cut to the chase, and leave out everything that isn't actually running. I'd say write for the audience you prefer. I presume most writers will want to be proud of what they've written, and being true to what you love is an essential factor in achieving this. If you write well enough, you'll have an audience.

    Some folks like to settle in for the long haul—I'm one of them. Others want to belt through a story ASAP. I'm not one of them. In fact, I feel cheated if a story moves too quickly and doesn't contain a rich setting and complicated characters. I want to spend time with any book I read. And I do buy books. Lots of books.
     
  11. jannert
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    jannert Contributing Member Supporter Contributor

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    That's interesting you say this about Agatha Christie's books. As a young person living in the USA I read every single book of hers, many of them several times. Not because I was the slightest bit interested in 'whodunnit,' but because of the local colour and the characters she created.
     
  12. KaTrian
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    KaTrian A foolish little beast. Staff Supporter Contributor

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    They recommend if one wants to get traditionally published, it's a good idea to start your debut novel as late as possible and with a fairly clear objective or conflict that makes your readers and the editor/agent want to learn more.

    Although sometimes the writing itself can be so immersive and entertaining that the book could be about anything and go pretty much nowhere and still catch the reader's attention and maintain it, I suppose.

    If you're planning to self-pub, you wouldn't have to really stress about your beginning. Sure, if you want readers, the story has to be engaging, something they'd want to invest their time and money in, but I guess the beginning could then be slower.

    I personally enjoy both. It's usually the writing and characters that are more likely to entice me and keep my eyes glued to the book. In my and @T.Trian's writing, we try to begin as late as possible. The beginning of our WIP used to be longer, but it was also ameteurish in its self-absorbedness (like you'd give a shit what the MC's car sounds like if the story is not about that... you know, that kind of thing), as the earlier beta-readers pointed out.
     
  13. Commandante Lemming
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    Commandante Lemming Contributing Member Contributor

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    It's going to differ between readers and between genre. If you're writing a thriller - it better surface quick. If we're dealing in epic sci-fi, you get more time. If you're writing a Michner-esque epic history, heck, start with the formation of the Earth from interstellar dust and work forward.

    On average though, your beginning should be what draws us in and keeps us reading. So there need to be some hints early as to what we're reading about. Even if you are writing to be the next Michner, we still have to like the first page.
     
  14. Nightstar99
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    Nightstar99 Contributing Member

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    I think people will persevere with a writer they otherwise like, or if the idea really grabs them. For example I felt in the mood for apocalyptic fiction and downloaded a lot of rookie authors samples from Amazon. Including a sample of a book called 'Return Ticket':



    The idea was great, but the entire of the sample was clumsy and rather dull. I skipped over a lot of formulaic episodic reminiscence about the protagonists family, and him wandering around looking for things on his own, that I really didn't care about.

    But then the idea of the depopulated earth and why it had happened kept gnawing at me and I gambled a couple of quid on the download and found that the story came alive on pretty much the page after the sample ended, and didnt let up from thereon.

    The other author's samples ended up in the digital trash as they were similarly bad at generating interest with a solo unestablished character mooching around on their own; but failed to give me a big idea to care about.
     
  15. peachalulu
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    peachalulu Contributing Member Reviewer Contributor

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    Me - not much. But then I skim. If a beginning is blowing it for me, I skim read until I get to where I believe is the real start of the story. I don't recommend this though as I've missed out on some important tidbits. But I usually skim when I feel like the authors is trying to tell me things ( this is the tone, this is the mc, this is the mc's past ) rather than shape a mood or set a scene. I don't mind three pages of setting if it's done properly. Peyton Place starts with a ghostly narrator taking us through the town, didn't mind that at all as it perfectly set the tone.
     
    Last edited: Aug 5, 2014
  16. maskedhero
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    maskedhero Active Member

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    I give lots of leeway to a writer to tell a story, but the story has to, from the start, have that spark. If I don't see that there's a payoff, a great destination, the book will go away after a few chapters.
     

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