Making It Easy for the Fiction Reader

ThinkingMy post for Steyer Associates this month—Making It Easy: The Basics—offers a brief checklist on readability as part of the writing, editing, and design considerations for technical communications.

I’ve been endeavoring for a few seasons now to offer parallel discussions for fiction writing, to explore both where the two worlds intersect and how they differ.

Rather than getting lost in basic principles for fiction—which is an immense study of story mechanics, style, technique— I’ll compare the checklist points for #techcomms basic as a meditation on fiction.

Make It Easy to Understand, Sentence-by-Sentence

Clear, concise sentences promote readability.

  • Genre: Yes! I’d even say “always.”
  • Literary: Depends on what the writer is trying to do.

Clear expression of who or what the agent is for any activity described.

  • Genre and Literary: Yes, with exceptions for the writer’s specific use of techniques for creating suspense or other literary effects.

Avoid parenthetical statements.

  • Genre and Literary: Depends specifically on the tone and style that the writer is consciously seeking.

Write as compactly as possible.

  • Genre: Yes! I’d say “almost always.” A wordy writer must have total control of her or his style.
  • Literary: Depends on what the writer is trying to do.

Make It Easy to Read on Screen or on the Page

Clear, concise layout and design helps the reader.

  • Genre and Literary: Yes.
    And Publishers: There is *no* excuse for crappy looking ebooks.

Keep paragraphs short.

  • Genre: Generally Yes for most modern genre.
  • Literary: Depends specifically on the tone and style that the writer is seeking.

Chunk in logical order.

  • Genre and Literary: Yes, but the writer has 100% choice about what’s logical … as long as the reader is convinced.

Create a scannable layout.

  • Genre: Yes!
    It may be my personal preference, but once you start experimenting with punctuation, layout, and other standard mechanics, then you’ve crossed over to literary.
  • Literary: Depends on what the writer is trying to do.

Use only bold for emphasis.

  • Genre and Literary: Depends on what the writer is trying to do.

Write meaningful headings.

  • Genre and Literary: Depends on what the writer is trying to do.
    Me, I like long subheadings, like Jerome K. Jerome in Three Men in a Boat … but I hear some people wanted these to die along with every other Edwardian artifice.

Write for International Audiences

My fiction/techcomms comparisons might fall apart here, since writing for International English typically has a specific business purpose. But if you look at a few of the high-level tips for writing for an international audience, there are clues for fiction writers.

Avoid terms that rely on cultural meanings.

  • Genre and Literary: Yes—if the guidance is “choose cultural words and phrases thoughtfully.”
    The word-choice cautions for International English are good guidelines for avoiding clichéd writing. Choose these kinds of words and phrases carefully:
    Slang, colloquialisms, sports analogies, military analogies, corporate jargon, technical jargon

Avoid words with confusing nuances.
Choose the precise, single meaning of a word.

  • Genre and Literary: Yes, unless the writer is specifically choosing to misdirect by playing on the multiple meanings of words.

Skip fancy rhetorical devices.

  • Genre and Literary: Yes, with exceptions for when the writer is trying something fancy.

If you are curious about International English (whether for business or technical communications), start with Edmond H. Weiss’s Elements of International English Style. You can download a free PDF on Scribd.

About anniepearsonOK

Author of the Rain City series, managing editor of Jugum Press, and writer/project manager for eclectic technical communications projects.

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