Stumbling and Appreciation

downloadIt’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?


15 thoughts on “Stumbling and Appreciation

  1. I agree–“The Book Thief” is one that requires pause to let the incredible storytelling sink it. Basically anything by CS Lewis makes me stop and think, particularly “The Great Divorce.”

    • Isn’t is lovely? I haven’t read that one by Lewis, but I did enjoy his writing in what I have read from him before. I’ll take a look at that one. I remember being delighted with the Narnia books.

  2. One book that made me stumble often, but in a good way, was “The Bone People” by Keri Hulme, which I know I already mentioned in a previous comment. The novel takes place in New Zealand, and Hulme weaves a Maori vocabulary as well as British Isles vernacular into her dialogue. The Maori words could be especially difficult to pronounce, which was a main stumbling point. Hulme also uses a lot of unconventional adjectives. But in the end, all of these aspects make for an extremely robust voice. (If you haven’t figured it out already, I really like this book).

    • That’s excellent. I’ve got it on a reading list now, but who knows how long it will take for me to get to it! I love when the individuality of the writing makes the story all that much better.

  3. Ahahah…something that throws me out is when there’s just one parenthesis. I get distracted looking for the other parenthesis, takes me a while to get back in after it can’t be found. Not to criticize, it just reminded me that in a story, that’s a thing.

    This, what you’ve spoken of, is one reason I’m so glad I have such great writing groups. The members make a point to let me know what throws them out of the story, and I’ve learned to take that notice seriously.

  4. I work with dogs and guns, so when there’s something inconsistent with either of those (attack dogs barking on the run, someone grabbing the barrel of a recently shot rifle and not being burned) it really throws me out of the story. I’m more forgiving with grammatical errors though, since I make so many myself 😛

  5. A book that I have read recently constantly requires me to stop and wonder: Ender’s Game. The book is simply crammed with marvelous analogies, cultural insights, and linguistic richness that I just have to stop and jot some of my thoughts down. I have just finished the second book in the Quintet, and I want to start the third (I have to finish my online classes for the semester first.). I highly recommend the series.

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