Skipping the bits you don’t like

I’m on a really big re-reading binge at the moment. I’m in the middle of writing something, and I find I’m overly critical of new work I read. I find re-reading more soothing.

Over the weekend, I thought about what I did and didn’t read, what I skipped over and what I read word for word as if it was the first time I’d ever read it, even though I knew exactly what was about to happen. And the interesting thing about what I re-read?

It wasn’t ever the plot.

And that’s not saying something bad about plots. I think I have the kind of mind where I get the plot quickly, and I always remember it. I don’t need to re-read that part.

What I do want to re-read is the emotional connections, the interactions between the main characters. I want to visit with those characters again. They’ve become like old friends, and I can re-live the thrills and trials of their emotional journey as if they were over at my place with a cup of coffee, spilling the beans.

It’s probably why I can watch LOVE ACTUALLY as many times as it comes on TV, or SERENITY, too, for that matter. Because the one is full of interesting emotional connections, and the other is action-packed but with a lot of emotion in there, too, and the story sticks close to the main characters the whole way through, twining plot with emotion so closely, its impossible to separate it.

With all this in mind, I was listening to the radio to a really complex song today, and then straight after a really simple one was played, and they both appealed. The simple one because it was a little funny, and a lot emotional, and the complex one because although it was darker, and more dramatic, it was also interesting, with a number of different layers and two distinct points of view. The dance music with the inane lyrics and the synthesized beat that came after that? That I skipped. :)

One of Elmore Leonard’s famous tips on writing is:

Try to leave out the part that readers tend to skip.

Even before I read that I was trying to do it. To erase myself from the story, so only the story is left. And I know the authors who succeed at doing it are the ones whose books I sink into as a reader, without noticing any of the craft aspects of the book. It is annoying not to be able to read a book without noticing POV, plot devices or author intrusion, and a rare and wonderful thing to find a book where the story is so compelling, there are no bits I want to skip.

So what are the bits you like to skip in books / movies / music, and which keep you glued to the page?

About Michelle Diener

Michelle Diener writes historical fiction for Gallery Books. Her debut novel, IN A TREACHEROUS COURT, released in August, 2011, is set in the court of Henry VIII. It features the real historical figures of illuminator and painter, Susanna Horenbout, and Henry's Keeper of the Palace of Westminster and Yeoman of the King's Robes, John Parker. A second book, also featuring Susanna and Parker, THE KEEPER OF THE KING'S SECRETS, was published on April 3rd, 2012. THE EMPEROR'S CONSPIRACY, a historical novel set in London during the Napoleonic Wars, is set for a November 27th, 2012 release.
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12 Responses to Skipping the bits you don’t like

  1. Amy Atwell says:

    Michelle, this was a great post and so timely. I was rereading some draft material yesterday and hoping that I’d drawn my characters in such a way that readers would connect with them. It can be a fine line between enough and too much introspection or snarky dialogue or narrative description.

    One of the things I love to revisit in books and movies often drives plot but is more character-centric. It’s the allegiances between the characters, how they’re portrayed, whether they’re murky. Think Snape in the Harry Potter books, or in the Pirates of the Caribbean movie (the first one), it was a toss up as to whether one could really trust Jack Sparrow or not. I find the action can go by in a movie so fast these days, that I have to re-watch some movies just to understand the allegiances between the characters. Whose side are they on at which point and why? Why do they change? I love finding characters like that in books, too. I’ll always reread those parts!

  2. Edie Ramer says:

    I love both the movies. I just read a short story told all in journal entries by an author whose books I normally love. I didn’t like it, and now I realize it’s missing the character interactions that she usually has. I watch certain TV shows, like Bones and NCIS, for the emotional connections and sometimes the crime plot that it revolves around actually irritates me.

    Right now I’m writing a book that’s all about emotional connections. No crime – except crimes of the heart. (Couldn’t resist saying that.) I hope other people feel the same way about emotional connections.

  3. I’m big on skipping past stuff in books. It’s usually huge chunks of description – because once I have a general idea, I make the scene up in my head anyway. And I skip sex scenes – because hey, been there, done that. In either case, skipping is usually because I want to get back to the storyline. I want to know what happens next. And usually I can skip those things without dropping the thread of the story.
    B.E Sanderson`s last blog was …Learning to Walk Again

  4. Misty Evans says:

    Michelle, it’s always a toss up for me. I love dialogue and often skip over narrative to get to it. I just put a book down that I thought would be a great Romantic Suspense because it was all (except for a prologue that did not serve the story) in the heroine’s point of view. After a few chapters of too much internal vexation on her part and no hero, I skipped ahead looking for that important POV…only to come up with ziltch. I’d rather reread the unnecessary prologue again to get a fix on the hero than continue reading the heroine’s POV. Maybe it’s just me, but I enjoy the hero’s POV and want to read that in any romantic suspense. The plot of the book was good, but after realizing I wasn’t going to get any more of the hero, I put it down. :cry:

    • Misty, the reason we read any genre fiction is for some specific constants, and I think any writer has to be very careful how they break away from that. It can be done, but it has to be done spectacularly, or, just like with the book you are talking about it, it stops the reader cold.
      Michelle Diener`s last blog was …Dangerous Sanctuary release date is here!

  5. A lot of times I’ll skip the sex scenes in romance novels. lol. I like that romantic tension more, to be honest!

  6. Liz Kreger says:

    There are certain books that I’ll re-read just because I love the way the author can layer the plot and how well the characters complement each other. I’m usually left with a “damn, I wish I could write that well” sorta feeling.

    With movies, I find myself re-watching the movie “Red” with Bruce Willis. He plays such a simple, yet complex character. He’s a stone cold killer who’s actually a romantic. He reads romantic novels because the girl he’s interested in loves them. When he finally goes to Kansas City to meet her for the first time, its because he knows the bad guys were going to go after her. He vacuumed the heroine’s apartment while waiting for her to come home because “it was a little messy”. LOL. I loved that.

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