I Feel Cheated!


One way to disappoint readers is to add extensive details in your story that are not relevant to your plot. We feel cheated when writers add vivid characters and scenes that we’re memorizing as clues, just to find out in the end they don’t connect to anything. You do need fillers for scenes (like people crossing paths with the hero) or red herrings (people we are suspicious of until the end of the book when the truth is revealed). How do you write those parts effectively so your reader feels gratified at the end?

For fillers, make them very generic and vague. Don’t describe the FedEx man in great detail or we will think he is a person of significance—we’ll be watching for him the entire story. If he’s just a guy dropping off a box, write it that way:

“Sue looked out the window to see the FedEx truck pull into the drive. By the time she swung the door open, a bulky brown box  was at her feet. She looked up to see the FedEx man waving at her as he pulled away.” Now our focus is on the box. (And make sure the box is important to the story! It can be an innocent box, but it should trigger something in Sue relating to the plot.)

We don’t need to know the man’s name is Jeb Harvel, he has wispy gray hair, a crooked nose, is skinny as a rail, chews tobacco and spits on people’s lawns, but waves at everyone.

If you want Jeb to be a red herring, then he should be part of Sue’s life. Make him a minor character. Add him to several scenes (especially out of uniform). Then it’s appropriate to describe him—and for us to keep looking out for him. But if after this scene he never shows up again, we only need to catch a glimpse of him. Better yet, we don’t need to see him at all!

“Sue looked out the window as a FedEx truck pulled into the drive. By the time she swung the door open, a bulky brown box was at her feet and the truck had vanished.” Now we are focused on the box. And Sue’s reaction to the box. We’ve forgotten about the character who was just a filler. Perfect!

NONFICTION writers: this applies to you, too. Don’t go off on tangents and fascinating side notes. Stick to a specific, focused, cohesive outline. It takes a lot of work for readers to absorb and remember all of the information you are giving them. Make sure everything you write fits neatly under your main points. Then your readers can stay on track with you all the way to the very end. Success! 🙂

Savvy Writer Tip:

Eliminate extensive details on anything that isn’t a significant part of the plot. Keep fillers and background scenes clear enough for a visual yet vague enough that readers won’t think they are significant clues. You don’t want your reader to feel deceived by going down pointless rabbit trails—they may write a terrible review on your book! Highlight all of the critical elements that tie in together with your plot. Then your readers can savor the story and feel satisfied when they reach the end! 🙂

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