This book is making my head hurt

Frustrated readerSome books ease you into their world and characters effortlessly. You find yourself immersed in the story and before you know it, you’ve read fifty pages. You’re not quite sure how it happened, or how the author does it, but you’re hooked.

Many books are classed as ‘easy to read.’ Often there seems to be some sort of negative connotation associated with this, but I’m asking, why on earth?

Books should be easy to read! Fiction, anyway. (If you want to knock yourself out with that latest physics textbook then go right ahead, that’s a different story).

Fiction is an escape. A ticket into another world. If that ticket requires too much effort on my part, then I’m going to get frustrated. I paid the price, now deliver the goods!

There’s nothing worse than being a frustrated reader

Frustrated readers are easy to recognise. They spout comments like, “This novel shows great promise.” Or “I’m fifty pages in and I’m hoping it will pick up soon.” And occasionally, “I’m finding this book is a bit of an effort, but I know it will be worth it.”

No! Life is too short. And you know what? Those other readers out there who are genuinely enjoying their books, what are they saying? Nothing. That’s right. Can you hear the silence? That’s because they’re too busy reading to come up for air. Conversation would take away from reading time and they don’t want to do that because the book is too good.

I was recently reminded of the frustrated reading dilemma first hand. I was about fifty pages in and showing the following classic symptoms:

  • I’d rather do other things. “I suppose I could pick up my book and read. On second thought, I’d rather go and do the washing up.” Actually, for someone like me who pretty much is always reading a book, I get that vague sense of being lost when I’m without a book. It’s even more troubling when I’m currently reading and I still have that feeling.
  • Detachment to the story. The characters made me feel uncomfortable. Not in a good way. I felt like I was watching their actions with a sort of detached disapproval, which of course meant I wasn’t involved in the story.
  • Concentrating too hard. The world in my book felt wrong. In theory, I liked the concept, but in reality, this world was an effort and I had to really concentrate on keeping focused.
  • Picking up another book. This is a classic frustrated reader symptom, when another book you’ve come across or are waiting to read, appears more appealing. In my case, I picked up the other book, started reading and didn’t come up for air until I was fifty pages in. Ah. That’s what a good book feels like: easy!

Behind every easy to read book there is a very clever author

Please don’t assume I’m suggesting readers are simple, lacking intelligence and books need to be dumbed down for maximum enjoyment. Absolutely not. What I’m implying is actually the inverse: that the author is clever. Exceptionally so. Clever enough in their craft, their IQ and their concept, to deliver a story that woos us without our conscious knowledge.

So now we’ve discussed classic frustrated reader symptoms, what are the key elements of an easy read?

  • A hook. Without a doubt, that first page and chapter needs to be engaging and resonate with your readers. If you can’t create interest in those first pages it’s going to be even harder to do so fifty pages in.
  • The author’s writing voice. I know this one should probably go without saying, but it’s amazing how writing style can affect the enjoyment of a book. I usually find an author who has a strong writing voice and is safe and secure in that voice, delivers an easy read. It’s those books where the voice isn’t immediately apparent and identifiable, that lose some credibility. Probably because subconsciously the lack of confidence from the writer transfers to the reading experience.
  • The main characters feel established within pages. Honestly I don’t care if the author has spent days or weeks crafting character profiles, what matters is when I read the pages, I’m immediately wanting to travel a journey with those characters. That’s a whole other blog post about what goes into making characters readers care about, and one I hope to get around to one of these days…
  • Not enough or too much action. This one relates to plot. Sometimes there isn’t enough happening early on, or too much backstory. Other times maybe there’s too much action and the reader can’t get their thoughts straight on basics like characters and the setting, because the writer hasn’t given them the chance to do so. It’s a delicate art and something that a good author will get right (and make look easy!)

Easy to read doesn’t mean easy to write

Obviously the list above isn’t exhaustive by any means, but it does demonstrate how much skill and thought goes into creating an easy to read book. So next time someone you know casually says, “Oh, it was an easy read” help them dig deeper. Maybe they’ll appreciate easy to read doesn’t necessarily mean easy to write.

How do you feel about the term ‘easy to read’? Are there any other examples you can add on creating a book that’s easy to read?

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