Process Post: Reader Check-Ins

I’m second-guessing myself: should I include more information on how to write reader check-ins or not? 

At first you have to think about writing reader check-ins. It doesn’t necessarily come naturally. 

You: “I just want to tell the story!”

Reader (eventually): “It’s a great story but it’s not for me…”

You: [Sobbing]

It seems like about half the writers I know want to plow through the plot at breakneck speed. The other half want to go on and on and on about stuff without ever getting to the plot, or writing two sentences of plot and then blathering on about something else (I’m the latter.)

Reader check-ins mean that 

  • You have to write some blah blah blah that doesn’t advance the plot but that keeps the setting and context fresh in the reader’s mind
  • You can’t put all that blah blah blah in one spot, which means it becomes obvious when you’re repeating yourself<–this happens a LOT with the second type of writer.

And then there are the people who do both, who only tell the reader about something important after the reader needs to know it.

“Have a seat, Caroline.” The old witch waved at a chair.

Caroline entered the room. It was a big room. The room had lot of furniture. The furniture was French antique furniture. The furniture had come from a secret warehouse in Germany. The Nazis had stolen the furniture. Now it was at a museum. There was an art exhibit. A lot of people were there. The walls were covered with paintings.

I swear I write at least one passage like that in every story. Here’s a better way:

The walls of the enormous exhibit room were covered with oil paintings in gilded frames and filled with ornate furniture. All of it had been recovered from the Nazis after World War II. Caroline edged in through the doorway, trying to go unnoticed among the throng of museum attendees. 

The old witch waved at a delicate chair. “Have a seat, Caroline.”

The difference is in the order it’s told and how it’s told. In the first example, I just wrote down a sentence, then tried to address my mental questions as I ask them. The description prioritizes what the author needs to know in order to write the scene.

Caroline entered a room. What kind of room? A big room. What’s in the room? Furniture. What kind of furniture? French antiques. Where did the furniture come from? Er…not…France? Oh, yeah, a secret warehouse in Germany. Why? Nazis. Okay, but why was this furniture in the room? It’s an art exhibit. What else would be in the room? People and paintings.

The second example prioritizes what the reader needs to know to read the scene. 

Where is the setting? A well-attended exhibit of treasures recovered from the Nazis. Who is the POV character and how are they doing? Caroline, and she’s uncomfortable. What conflict is coming up next? Caroline is trying to sneak in but fails; the old witch sees her and tries to get her to do something she’s not supposed to, that is, sit in a piece of furniture at an exhibit.

Character, setting, and conflict are all addressed. 

Ehhhhh…I’ll put this in another section for reader check-ins later. But I should probably leave what I have alone for now. 

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