It’s common to hear that people “stumble” while reading. This can be caused by anything from a misspelled word, a hard to (mentally) pronounce name, an inconsistent detail (unexplained change to a physical feature), to a badly constructed sentence. It causes the reader to be pulled out of the story and into reality. It’s a negative thing, and it’s something that us editors watch for and look to correct in writing.
I’m sure that you have all come across something at some point. What makes one person stumble may be different from what causes another to do so. A book that I just read (and enjoyed), The Pillars of the Earth, has a few spelling errors in the trade paperback edition (at least, the one that I have). These small errors, that could have been caused by the author, editor, or even the typesetter or printer, caused me to feel as if I were in a vehicle that suddenly, and unexpectedly, stalled while in motion. You can easily get back into the story, but it would be better to avoid being thrown out in the first place. It’s like stubbing your toe: it only hurts for a minute, and then you can get back to your intended destination, but it would have been smarter to watch what you were doing in the first place.
Not all stops have to have a negative association, though. Sometimes I stop to appreciate a beautiful piece of writing, or an intellectual thought. Sometimes I stop to appreciate an entire passage, or merely just a lovely word.
An excellent example of this would be when I read The Book Thief, by Markus Zusak. Some of the writing in that book was so wonderfully and refreshingly unique that I had to take a moment to savour it. The similes, metaphors, and personifications in that book are brilliant. The book appealed to all of my senses, and the jarringly different from normal words made me feel as if I had found a spring after thirsting for days. I had to stop, just to sit and look in awe at the style, eyes wide and flashes of imagery playing behind them.
I really did like both books. Ken Follet wrote a strong and complicated story that spanned a huge amount of time. It followed a plethora of characters, events, and political changes. He wrote it simply, and he wrote it well. Markus Zusak added depth, style, and individuality to an already strong story. His writing made the story come to life, and without his style and tone, I do’t know if I would have relished it quite as much. The story was much simpler, in a fashion, but it holds its own because of the superb talent of the author.
The point being that there are many ways to be removed from the reading experience. It’s important as writers, and for me as an editor, to watch out for these things. Listen to your readers when they tell you that something isn’t working. Listen to your editors when they suggest that something may need some modification. Your tone and style should be your own, and they should support your story. They may even vary depending on what you are writing.
Do you have any stories that made you stumble? Do you have any that you stopped just to appreciate? What are they?