For a long time I have been interested not only in writing and the writing process but in creativity and the creative process in general. While my particular forte is the writing of fiction, I believe much can be learned from the way in which any creative person pursues their creativity, be it sculpture, music, or advertising copy I believe that studying how John Lennon put together a rock and roll song can assist me in putting together a story. (For example, a close review of the Anthology recordings shows that, especially after the mid-sixties, he and Paul McCartney tried multiple different ideas before settling on the version they finally released.)
But I digress.
Recently I came upon a blog called CreativityHacker and an article in which the author analyses why he lost immersion in fifty different self-published ebooks.
For those unfamiliar with the term, “immersion” refers to the ability of a story to convince the reader that it’s world is real. It’s what Coleridge called the “willing suspension of disbelief.” Done well. It is a complete and bulletproof illusion, an illusion of reality. Done poorly, the immersion is broken. Do it often enough and we lose the reader.
So in a study he calls “Immerse or Die” the author chose a different ebook every morning as he worked out on his treadmill and read each until his immersion was broken three times or he’d read for forty minutes. He’d then write a report about each book.
These are the most common mistakes:
17–weak mechanics—editorial issues such as spelling, missing words, etc.
15–implausible characters—a character acts contrary to human nature
14–echoing—words or phrases repeat enough to become annoying
10–illogical world—the fictional world doesn’t make sense
9—conspicuous exposition—presentation of backstory poorly
6—weak language style—poor execution of accents, historical language
6—tell mode—telling instead of showing scenes
5—weak dialogue—boring, inconsistent with character. Unrealistic
5—coincidence—important plot points resolved too easy
These are interesting results for sure, but what can they tell us? What can we learn from them?
First of all, it tells us that all the most common mistakes are all fairly easily corrected. All we as writers need to do is find a good editor, either for free as one of our beta readers, or even better, a professional editor, who can point out the flaws for us (and sometimes suggest corrections). We can also be aware of these pitfalls in our own writing, as much as possible anyway.
The second lesson is that the most common mistake writers make is probably the easiest to correct. Grammar and usage. Face it, we want to be writers, want to work with the language to build beautiful things, right? Shouldn’t we at the very least know the rules? And it isn’t hard. Take a class at your local community college, or online. At least go down to your local book store or visit Amazon and buy a copy of The Elements of Style and read it. Learn the rules and abide by them most of the time.
By doing something as simple as learning the rules of grammar and word usage we can do much to eliminate nearly one fifth of the mistakes that cause readers to lose their sense of immersion in our stories. That means they keep reading. And that is what we want, right?