Sunday, April 25, 2010

The Unwritten Contract

Did you know that you have a contract with your reader? You do.


Party of the first part – from here on referred to as THE READER
THE READER agrees to suspend belief and enter the fictional world that’s been created.

Party of the second part – from here on referred to as THE WRITER
THE WRITER agrees to do everything possible to facilitate their remaining, undisturbed, within that world.

What exactly does this legal jargon mean? Let me explain. Have you ever been reading a book or a story and something startles you and you realize you actually felt like you were IN the story? It’s almost like an alternate reality or a dream.

I once attended a workshop by Ron Benrey where he referred to it as the fictional dream. (He has a great book, The Complete Idiots Guide to Writing Christian Fiction.) I’ve also heard it referred to as the fictional bubble. Well, this fictional dream is a good thing for the reader and we want to avoid doing anything that can jar them from this dream world. Trust me, there are plenty of things in the real world to jar them awake. It means that there are certain things we do or DON’T do, when we write, to make it easier for the reader to

  • Use correct grammar. Glaring mistakes can jar THE READER awake, making them wonder why they agreed to read you story.
  • Make your Point of View (POV) shifts clear and seamless. When you change POV make certain you have a good reason for doing so.
  • Use unobtrusive attributions, like said. Even better, use a speaker beat. Vonda Skelton had an excellent explanation of this on her blog post last week.
  • Avoid overuse of misspelled words to indicate dialect. A little is fine, but once THE READER has the character’s voice in their head, continuing makes the dialogue difficult to read.
  • Avoid italics when possible. An occasional italicized word for emphasis is fine, but thought after thought in italics is hard on the eyes. Instead, try to write deeper from the character’s POV. This is sometimes called Deep POV.
  • Use all five senses when you write. This will bring the story to life for THE READER
Following these simple guidelines can make it easier for THE READER to immerse themselves in our story.

Don’t forget to join the conversation!


  1. Thanks for this, Edie. I don't like books with too much dialect either, finding them hard to read. Yet "The Help" (filled with dialect) is a bestseller, and so were Frank McCourt's books.

    I tend to use a little in my novels, especially when English is not the character's first language.

    ~ Alice

  2. Such good information and I'm guilty of all of it. It's hard to break a bad habit.

    Congratulations on your appointment with The Book Doctor. Sandi is such a sweetie. She is editing my book, she can tell you how bad I am.