1. peachalulu
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    peachalulu Contributing Member Reviewer Contributor

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    Why skim-read?

    Discussion in 'General Writing' started by peachalulu, Nov 19, 2015.

    I was reading a book the other day on writing and in it someone believed one of the main reasons readers skim-read was that the writer didn't balance out the story questions good enough- either the story rested too much on answering a big question like - who killed so and so - causing the reader to plow on, or it rested too much on fulfilling smaller questions - I.e will I get a new dress - and that, when resolved, allowed a reader to stop reading or skim to the next big event.

    Any reasons that cause you to skim-read? I tend to skim when I see the author start to record the history of something or someone or the detail goes on to long for the pace of the scene. On Monday I was reading I am Charlotte Simmons and I found myself skimming when Wolfe would introduce a new character which involved usually a page of the characters history. ( It was a good book I just found some of the details, I don't know skim-worthy? )
     
  2. Haze-world
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    Haze-world Senior Member Supporter

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    I don't find myself skim reading within novels too often, but when it has happened, like you, it has been because of excessive, unnecessary details. This happened in Heroes by Joe Abercrombie with lengthy descriptions of armour and details of army. The book was really good, I was just more important in the characters.
     
  3. 123456789
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    123456789 Contributing Member Contributor

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    I very seldom skim read, but I unfortunately find myself doing so with Umberto Eco's Focault's pendulum.

    The man is a genius, no doubt, and overall, the book is wonderful. Worse, for anyone who hopes to tread on similar ground, the amount of knowledge he has in that novel is staggeringly intimidating.

    Unfortunately, the novel just has oceans and oceans of esoteric information, regarding cults, and I have no idea if any of it is even real. It's 70% cult encyclopedia. I'm almost finished. The novel is genius. Umberto Eco can create good prose when he chooses. He's gifted at writing AND thinking, not just one. However, there's just no way I could finish this, at my age, without skimming.

    I think when a novel starts to lose context (setting, characters, the importance of the event) the reader will start to lose focus.
     
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  4. Lifeline
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    Lifeline The Dark - not in Wonderland Supporter Contributor

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    Or when you have not mstered the language (ie. english) enough :(
     
  5. GingerCoffee
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    GingerCoffee Web Surfer Girl Contributor

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    I'll skip ahead when something gets too redundant.

    And I skim walls of text on the Net if it's something I think I should at least look at. Can't stand a wall of text.
     
  6. OurJud
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    OurJud Contributing Member Contributor

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    I don't skim-read. If I find myself getting bored, I simply stop reading the book altogether. I have better things to do that 'skim' for interesting parts of a novel.
     
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  7. BayView
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    BayView Contributing Member Contributor

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    I skim when there's too much backstory, info-dumping, or other non-action text.

    But it depends on the book and the author. There are some books with prose so gorgeous that I read every word; I'm reading for the prose more than the story. But if I'm reading for the story, I skim anything that doesn't directly advance it.

    ETA: I don't really accept that skimming is a sign of a problem with the text. I think it's just a mismatch between the text and the reader. Other readers might love the stuff that I'm skimming right over. I skim most sex scenes, for example, while other readers skim the other parts of books in order to get to the sex scenes!
     
  8. Tenderiser
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    Tenderiser Not a man Contest Administrator Supporter Contributor

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    I skim read:
    • Info-dumps
    • Verses/poems/songs - just hate reading anything but prose
    • Detailed descriptions of settings or appearance
    • Walls of text
    I don't have a long attention span for introspection either. I sometimes find my eyes slipping to the next " I can see...
     
  9. peachalulu
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    peachalulu Contributing Member Reviewer Contributor

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    Same here. I've tried to read The Glass Bead Game by Hesse a few times and put it down due to the insanely heavy blocks of text. Sometimes I think I could get into more books, especially classics or general fiction, if certain paragraphs weren't so huge.
    Yes definitely, authors do make a difference. And I would've thought Wolfe would've had me for every word ( I love his prose ) but as a fiction author he sometimes gets derailed with adding in so much information my brain feels stuffed. Then I get nervous - do I really need to know or keep all this stuff in mind? Will there be something in that massive paragraph that will come up later on? - not that I noticed

    I think it's a bit of both. Walls of text are just off putting, a lot of writers know it but don't care so they're sort of deliberately setting up an environment to skim. And info dumps can sometimes be more necessary for the writer to get off their chest then be pertinent for the reader.
    But yeah I think it's also about personal taste. I read horror and yet skim read the graphic murder scenes. Some are just too gruesome for me. I'm more into the chase and the chills. I don't like gore.
     
  10. BookLover
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    BookLover Contributing Member

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    I don't typically skim books unless I don't like them. Like when I was attempting to read Fifty Shades of Grey I found myself skimming parts because it was awful and dull, but I wanted to keep reading in order to figure out why people liked it. "There has to be something coming up that will make this worthwhile..."

    I find myself skimming a lot of the short story contest entries when I vote, and I feel guilty about that. Every once and a while one will grab me, and I'll read it word for word. That's typically the one I vote for. I've been trying to figure out why I skim some and not the others because I think that will help my own writing. I don't think it 's a matter of story question balance in those cases. It probably has more to do with too much telling. Not enough showing.

    But I can definitely see in already published books how the story question balance could cause skimming. Interesting. :)
     
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  11. OurJud
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    OurJud Contributing Member Contributor

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    To all skim-readers, why not just read the blurb on the back? You could save yourself a shit-load of time that way.
     
  12. Morgan Stelbas
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    Morgan Stelbas Active Member

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    I understand your point of view, but for argument's sake, I think that most people who end up skimming text have read the blurb on the back, and thought it sounded more interesting than it actually was.

    I've caught myself skimming text many times, for varying reasons.

    I have read books that others have recommended, and have started skimming text waiting for the story to get interesting. If I can't find anything after the first chapter, I stop reading the book.

    On the other hand, in some stories, I have found middle portions heavy in details or history, making them skim worthy, and then I still enjoy the rest of the book.
     
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  13. CristianOrtt
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    CristianOrtt Member

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    I don't mind short backgrounds or descriptions when I'm reading something, but what causes me to skim is when the writer starts to drag things out. The length that determines the drag point depends on how invested I am or how interesting the piece is. I definitely skim read things on the internet all the time because writers give some crazy title and I'm like, "Um, of course I wanna know what happened next!" Then there's a friggin' three-page history. I didn't come here for all that. Skip.

    That being said, it can definitely happen in a novel as well when descriptions or backgrounds start to drag. I recently read an eBook that talked about showing, and not telling the story. Basically, it said that readers will become more invested in what their reading if the writer NEVER narrates anything other than description of locations and actions. Plot points and backgrounds should all be uncovered through actions and dialogue. All emotions should be described instead of directly stated. As far as whether or not this is true I'm still unclear on. I've read plenty of books that included background in narration and they were good. However, I can tell you that these are the parts that tend to make most people skim, including me, when it gets in the way of the story. Again, I'm not sure what the formula is for figuring that part out.

    While I don't believe that EVERYTHING should be shown and NOTHING should be told, I think there should be a balance and that most things should be shown to keep the reader invested. I would have to agree with you, peachalulu. Some details are definitely skim worthy.
     
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  14. minstrel
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    minstrel Leader of the Insquirrelgency Staff Supporter Contributor

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    I hate skim reading. I like to read as slowly as possible - aloud, if I can get away with it - because I love good prose and that's mostly what I read.

    I did skim-read parts of Octavia Butler's Dawn recently. I felt like I had to read the book, because Butler has a huge reputation in science fiction. However, I found that the book dragged terribly, especially in the first half. Way to much telling, not enough showing, and a main character who was not interesting in any way. Also, her descriptions were very repetitive - after about the 561st mention of the alien Oankali pointing their tentacles at the main character, I was ready to throw the book into the nearest active volcano.

    It improved a great deal in the second half, but not enough to really make me interested in reading anything else by Butler, I'm sad to say.
     
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  15. sprirj
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    sprirj Contributing Member

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    I don't often skim read, but I did recently with an authors book from this very forum, I won't name them, but the issue was that the story was all uninteresting telling, and for several pages, it just had one idea that was repeated, waffled through, and flogged for as long as possible, I didn't care for any of the characters, but I felt I should get to the end, as I paid for it, and it was only a short story.
     
  16. tonguetied
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    tonguetied Contributing Member Contributor

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    I wonder how much of the skim reading is a result of our ability and desire to get everything immediately at this point in history? I think the Internet and google have made us impatient and when nearly instant gratification isn't forthcoming we move on. I applaud minstrel's ability and willingness to 'smell the roses' during his reading. If I ever wrote a novel I would hope people would read it, not just skim it, but I understand that requires excellent prose as minstrel has said.
     
  17. Morgan Stelbas
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    Morgan Stelbas Active Member

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    That is an interesting observation. It is funny how each contininous generation wants things faster. Take for example the phenomena in the movie industry:
    If we watch movies from the early twentieth century, they all consist of long intros with the entire cast credited with music and it takes about 5 minutes before the movie even starts, and when it does, it sometimes takes another 30 - 45 minutes to get to the point.

    Flash forward to the 1980's - 1990's where opening credits still existed but were maybe a minute or two long, and the story would take about 10 minutes to start getting interesting.

    Fast Forward to movies now where most of them start right into an action sequence, right after the production studios have spent about 10 - 30 seconds with their clips. No opening credits at all.

    A similar thing has happened with TV shows. I was watching old shows like Magnum PI and the opening song with credits is about 1:15 long. As a kid, I didn't even mind it. Now TV shows rarely even have an opening song, or it's about 15 seconds long or less, and the cast credits are flashed on the screen as the TV show has already started.

    It could very well be that for readers the same phenomena is happening. Most of us have grown up with microwave ovens and dishwashers. Now it's common for a robot vacuum to be in someone's home and TV shows are PVR'd or downloaded leaving little patience for even the 15 second commercials. The world is changing. People are getting busier and less patient.

    That being said, are we going to stand firm on our principles of loving a good prose, or are we going to cater to our increasingly impatient readers? That's a decision every author who publishes a book has to make.
     
  18. Tenderiser
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    Tenderiser Not a man Contest Administrator Supporter Contributor

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    I'm a 'lean' writer because that's what I like to read. Whether it's because of my age or something else, I don't like reading books which dwell on description and introspection, and I write the kind of book I'd like to read. If you like to read a lot of description and introspection, you can bet a load of other readers will too.

    So thankfully we don't have to choose. There's enough variety in the world for all our styles of writing to find an audience. :)
     
  19. Bryan Romer
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    Bryan Romer Contributing Member Contributor

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    If I'm tempted to skim, I stop reading and go to another book. It doesn't mean the book is badly written, just that it doesn't suit my tastes.
     
  20. Steerpike
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    Steerpike Felis amatus Supporter Contributor

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    I don't have a problem skimming portions of a book that is otherwise engaging. You might find a really good book that has a section that drags. Putting the book away and finding something else wouldn't make a lot if sense in that case, because most of the book is really good and worth reading. It just has a bad bit or two that interrupt the story.
     
  21. peachalulu
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    peachalulu Contributing Member Reviewer Contributor

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    Exactly. I don't think I've ever skimmed an entire book - well maybe a few gothic romances that I felt frustrated with and just wanted to know the ending. But usually it's just a paragraph or two that I skim where I feel like the writer has - I don't know over indulged? And there was one horror in which I almost felt the writer had cut and pasted the same details for the setting. And rehashed them over and over. He was so concentrated on his big reveal I doubt he gave a damn about the in between bits.

    I think the idea of skimming sounds dreadful to writers because we don't want to think that anyone would dare skim our stuff. But that's kinda why I wanted to look into it. Why do I skim? What would readers skim of my story and can I avoid it.
    I know some of it's personal choice ( I'm not engaging with the scene cause it doesn't interest me ) but some rests on the author's ability and poor choices.
     
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  22. Wreybies
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    Wreybies The Ops Pops Operations Manager Staff Contest Administrator Supporter Contributor

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    Because I never skim-read on purpose. It's not a thing I choose to do. It chooses itself. I skim-read for more reasons than I can count or bother to list, but they all answer to the writer having lost my interest. It can be anything. Masturbatory world-building. Info-dumping. Pointless dialogue. A song, or poem inserted verbatim into the text will absolutely make me skim.

    I absolutely think you should write in a way that is true to yourself, but writers need to stop clutching the metaphorical pearls when readers indicate a dislike for this, that or the other thing. The fact that I Will Not Read Your Prologue™ isn't something you should spend time on being offended over. I won't read your poem and I certainly won't read your made up language (and know that my degree is in Linguistics, and still, no...). You've made your choices that are true to you, hopefully. Accept that those choices don't fit every reader.
     
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  23. tonguetied
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    tonguetied Contributing Member Contributor

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    Not related to this thread but knowing that you, Wreybies, are very careful about your wording why did you mark a trademark symbol on that line, I Will Not Read Your Prologue (don't know how you inserted the tm symbol)? Just trying to understand the reason, not questioning it.

    Peachalulu I think I took your original post as meaning to basically skim the whole book or at least major portions of it, sounds like you were really considering select passages. To that concept I have difficulty knowing a passage has little merit until I have read it and it is already too late to skim it unless, as you pointed out, some writer's trait to use certain techniques over and over again so when you see it you already know what to expect.
     
  24. Wreybies
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    Wreybies The Ops Pops Operations Manager Staff Contest Administrator Supporter Contributor

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    LOL :) It's just a thing I've said so many times in so many different threads that it comes to feel like something one should trademark. ;) Just a silly bit of being facetious. Ideologically, I would say the idea sprang as a child thought from the infamous I Will Not Read Your Fucking Script article, wherein the author sets down a series of pretty much impenetrable reasons as to why he won't read your script, and why you're a dick for asking him to. The many reasons he gives all boil down to a single issue he takes with those asking him: that somehow he's obligated to provide the service of reading scripts once people know what he does for a living. At the risk of derailing this thread (though I think this is still at least laterally on point with the idea of skimming) the prologue thing is the same for me. Whenever I say that I won't read prologues or inserted poetry/songs and other such things, invariably the comments back all fall into a slightly butthurt mode of "why won't you read the thing I took time and care to write?" The answer is: because I won't. Because too, too, too often when I have gone against my own words and read the thing, the only thing I get out of it is a reaffirmation as to why I don't like and won't read those things.

    But, as I said earlier, and before lovers and writers of such things take umbrage, again, writers shouldn't lose sleep over the fact that I will not read their prologue and that many readers will only skim them. For every one of us who disdain such things, there are just as many who want to read that prologue and wonder what little surprise is lurking therein that will come to fruition (hopefully) later on. There are things I nearly always include in my work (sex) that MANY readers and writers have an unshakingly firm and dogmatic belief have no business within the pages of a novel. They will either skim/skip those bits, or, coming upon them unawares, will stop reading my work altogether, and I genuinely, honestly, flatly, unemotionally do not care. I don't. All it means to me is that the work was not meant for that person. The dogma that "graphic sex doesn't belong in a novel", as a flat rule, is utter bullshit. My TBR pile is dauntingly high and filled with books that promise scaldingly hot, no-punches-pulled sex. The book I'm reading right now delivers in spades and is stonkingly well written. It's not just a skim from one bedroom scene to the next. I've read and enjoyed every glorious page of it and have already purchased the next installment of the trilogy for my Kindle.

    So, to wrap this up, I won't say Prologues Don't Belong in Books because that's bullshit, but I will definitely say I Will Not Read Your Prologue™ because that's a flat-fact truth. ;)

    Also, I've no idea how to make the ™ symbol on a PC, but on a Mac it's as simple as holding down the Option key and pressing the 2 key. ;)
     
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  25. OurJud
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    OurJud Contributing Member Contributor

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    Fairy Nuff, but personally, that's the point at which I usually stop reading altogether. Only very very rarely has a book I'm enjoying had passages I've wanted to skip / skim.
     

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