Top 5 Ways to Alienate Readers

Most writers have a certain audience in mind.  Whether you’re penning a novel, spouting sonnets, or simply posting on a blog, you no doubt have something specific you want to say and a certain group of readers that you’re targeting with your work.  However, it is easier than you may think to estrange your readership and send them packing through a slip of the lip, a lapse in formatting, or a typographical snafu that you somehow overlooked.  In short, you may ultimately be fighting a losing battle against yourself (and your inability to connect with your audience).  Here are a few common (and unfortunate) mistakes made by many writers that only serve to alienate readers.

1.   Poor spelling and grammar.  In this day and age, with spell-check only a click away, there is just no excuse for sloppy writing mistakes of this nature.  Whether you’re a terrible speller, you never learned grammatical rules, or you can’t seem to master homonyms (there, their, and they’re, for example), your writing software should come with some sort of rudimentary stopgap measure to keep you from making this ridiculous blunder.  And by the way, have you heard of editors?

2.   Set-up with no pay-off.  Storytelling in general requires that your plot points lead somewhere.  If your narrative ends and readers are left wondering what happened to the guy from the grocery store who told the girl he’d meet her in Albuquerque (and then never reappeared), you’ve made a glaring error.  If you have a set-up with no resulting pay-off down the line, it shouldn’t be there in the first place.

3.   Made-up language.  Unless you are Anthony Burgess (author of A Clockwork Orange) you should probably avoid the urge to inject a made-up “native” language for your characters to spout ad nauseam.  It will likely necessitate the inclusion of a dictionary that the reader will have to check constantly, or you will have to be clever enough to make the meaning of the new words clear through context.  Since only a handful of writers in history have had success in such an undertaking, it is probably best left to those who have the moxie and talent to pull it off.

4.   Killing off main characters.  Don’t you hate it when you become invested in a character only to have them snatched away in the prime of their storyline by the all-too-visible Deus ex machina?  So why would you do it to your readers?  Arbitrarily killing off characters “just because you can” shows poor judgment and a lack of planning.  While it can be tempting to buck the formula, it’s best to master the path before you plunge headlong into the jungle.

5.  Verbal diarrhea.  Sure you’re prolific.  And you think every word you write is spun gold.  You’re not the first writer and you won’t be the last who has a problem with being married to your text (as in, you can’t seem to take a red pen to it).  But content that is overwrought can get very tedious very quickly.  Descriptive prose is one thing, but at some point, readers want you to get to the point.  So eschew the excessive wordplay in favor of a style that seamlessly and invisibly propels the audience through the landscape of your narrative.

Sarah Danielson writes for The Woodlands TX, your local guide to the best in shopping, dining, entertainment and more!