Have you ever been reading a book and found that you’re skimming over sentences, paragraphs, or even pages? I often find myself doing that very thing. Which brought me to wonder, why? Why am I skimming? Why doesn’t this part of the book hold me as tightly as the rest of the book?
For me, it could be one of three problems
It could be a backstory blank-out, pages and pages of backstory that is probably essential, but very boring in long doses. The realisation that I’m skimming often causes a frantic shuffle back through the pages to check whether I’ve missed anything important.
It could be a character white-wall, where the characters have been sitting around a little too long. When that happens, I disconnect from the words and let myself skim until something interesting happens. Unlike backstory dumps, this doesn’t make me flip back.
Then there’s the song syndrome. The moment I see something in verse that’s more than four lines long, I switch off. It’s unfortunate but true. All the best prophesies come in four-liners, so anything longer than that doesn’t seem worth taking the time over.
Though the backstory blankout and the character white wall are both annoying while reading, to me, the song syndrome is the worse. This happens when the book is filled with songs that, while amusing, serve no real purpose to the plot.
Don't get me wrong, I don't mind a well written song or poem as long as they serve a purpose. But most seem to be added purely for the amusement of the characters, and are rather boring to read.
However annoying these three skim-causing problems are, they do serve a practical purpose for me as a writer. By knowing what causes me to switch off during a story, I know what to avoid. Certainly I won’t be adding poems and songs to my novels any time soon.
So next time you catch yourself skimming, it might be just as well to work out why you’re doing it. You might just catch a problem that could help with you writing.
What causes you to skim in a book? Do you read songs and poems? Or do you skim them like me?