Fiction Writing: Direct the Mind Movie of Your Reader

When readers read our fiction writing, we hope they are going to picture the story in their head, much like watching a movie playing out before their eyes. We need to write in such a way that the movie in their head flows well. If we write in such a way that the reader will picture something and then have to ‘rewind’ and change the picture they’ve drawn in their head, the reader will eventually get bored or tired of our writing and they won’t really even know why.

That means we need to try to put adverbs prior to our verbs and adjective prior to our nouns, because these words modify the nouns and verbs, and if we put them after, the reader will have to go back and adjust the image in their mind. Granted, sometimes it’s okay to put them after, but most of the time, they should come before.

He walked.

This sentence tells you what he did.

He walked quickly.

This sentence tells you what he did, but you will picture him walking first, then you will speed him up so he can walk quickly.

He quickly walked.

This, while I know you think it seems awkward, actually helps your reader see the quickly before the walking, so that when they picture the man walking, he will be doing it quickly, rather than slowly, leisurely, drunkenly, or whatever other adjectives you will use.

While these short sentences might not seem to matter, think about the structure of much longer sentences when using adverbs. I’m going to put three sentences below. Read each one slowly and picture the action in your head while you read.

He walked to the door by the front of house quickly.

He walked quickly to the door by the front of the house.

He quickly walked to the door by the front of the house.

If you’re being honest with your mind picture, I think you’ll pick the third one as the one that is easiest to picture in your mind while reading. THAT is what is most important when readers are picturing the writing while reading and it’s how we writers will keep our readers engaged.

When I was in college years ago, I took an English literature class where we were supposed to write something. The professor asked us to write a how-to ‘article’ entitled, “How to Make a Peanut Butter Sandwich”.

He had not told us beforehand what he was going to do, so when we wrote, we were not aware of what to look for or what he was going to do with these articles. After we wrote that article, we turned them in, and he had other students follow our instructions one word at a time. Not an entire sentence in context, but rather, one word at a time. The point was to ensure we were not confusing our readers by consistently giving too much information ahead of what they were supposed to actually do.

You would be amazed while following the directions word for word in these how-to articles how few of the writings actually resulted in the student being able to create a sandwich before the instructions left them stuck and unable to proceed.

His point, in good fiction writing, every word counts, and the only way our readers will be satisfied is if, after reading our writing, they are able to actually eat the peanut butter sandwich we were building for them.

Every word counts.

So play it out in your mind, see the movie, and make it easy so your readers do not have to rewind in their mind and change things. Your readers won’t know why your writing is ‘better’ than others they read. They will simply know they are more engaged and can picture the movie in their mind and feel as though they are a part of it.

Keep writing!

Love and stuff,
Michy