The Journal: Reader Pet Peeves: Thin Stories

In today’s Journal

* Quotes of the Day
* Also from Kris Rusch
* Topic: Reader Pet Peeves: Thin Stories
* Of Interest

Quotes of the Day

“The hardest thing … are the writers whose work just stops. Not because Dean or I got tired of reading them or the writer veered into territory we weren’t interested in. But because something got in the way of the writing.” Kristine Kathryn Rusch (see “Of Interest”)

“[Writers] who have long careers constantly work on their craft. They might be afraid — hell, they might be terrified — but they step beyond it.” Kristine Kathryn Rusch

“Fear chews at you, though, and some artists don’t even realize they’re experiencing it until it overwhelms them. … Then they quit or stop trying or figure they’ve had a good career, so why mess with it. Why? Because their voices are unique, and those voices shouldn’t be silenced because of fear.” Kristine Kathryn Rusch

Also from Kris Rusch —

“I wrote a long series in 2021 on fear. Here’s where to start.”

I remember reading that series of posts. I recommend it.

But the combined second and third post in today’s “Of Interest” were even better and more directed at writing than at the writing business.

The pair of them almost made me want to change the topic today and write about fear myself. But I’ll stay on track with reader pet peeves and save writing about unreasoning fears for another time.

In the meantime, if something is stopping you from writing or from writing the way you want to, be sure to read Kris’ posts in “Of Interest” today.

Topic: Reader Pet Peeves: Thin Stories

Note: this topic includes several links to other posts I’ve written. I recommend taking your time and clicking through to read those posts as well.

In yesterday’s post (at in case you missed it), I mentioned that lot of readers, if they find out it took me only a couple of weeks or a month to write a novel, won’t risk buying my book.

That’s precisely why I don’t talk about my writing process with readers. It’s also why, if any ask how many drafts I write, I tell them I always do three. Of course, I don’t tell them I finish the second draft in the few minutes it takes to conduct an automated spell check and that the third draft takes all of a half-hour or so as I apply my first-reader’s corrections. Well, the ones I agree with.

But get this — Many readers (and for that fact, many writers) won’t even accept a FREE book because they’re certain, sight unseen, the story can’t possibly be any good. They still believe the truly moronic notion that writing a quality novel requires months or even years of intensive, mind-wrenching, torturous labor. The same garbage writing myths we all heard over the years.

In other words, even at the chance of finding a potential new favorite author, they won’t invest the few minutes it takes to read the opening to see whether the writing and the story appeals to them.

That’s some fine reasoning. It ranks right up there with the kid who absolutely knows he doesn’t like spinach even though he’s never tried it and never will.

At this point, some would yell, “Hey, a person knows what s/he likes.”

I couldn’t agree more. Once s/he’s tried it, a person does “know” what s/he likes. But until then, s/he can only believe what s/he likes or dislikes.

And that’s fine. You can believe anything you like, and as of this writing, you can still pretty much say anything you like in most circles. But if working with other writers has proven anything to me, it’s clearly illustrated that believing and knowing are two vastly different things.

Anyway, just in case readers occasionally DO choose to give you the benefit of the doubt and devote even a few minutes of their time to check out your work, don’t risk losing him or her.

Write a clean opening, one that achieves two goals: it intrigues the reader and it grounds the reader, pulling him or her into the story.

In other words, it isn’t what readers describe as “thin” or “shallow.”

I personally don’t read or finish stories that are thin or shallow. I’ve started dozens of novels that I gave=up on and deleted or donated after reading the first chapter or the first several pages.

Every time I gave up because the writing was thin. The writer didn’t pull me into the story. I wasn’t able to see, hear, smell, taste or feel the setting. I couldn’t see the POV character or sense his or her mood.

Often the story would open with “action” (sound familiar?) but no lead-up at all. Or often it would open with two or more talking heads against a blank background: the characters apparently had no bodies or clothing and were sitting on undefined seats at an undefined table in an undefined room, saying things to each other. Like I’m supposed to care.

For the record, I’ve often taught other writers to “open with action” or to “open with dialogue.” I taught the latter because in written fiction (i.e., not in film) dialogue equals action. Meaning dialogue, like physical action, entices the reader. It makes him lean into the story.

But “open with dialogue” (like “open with action”) doesn’t mean the dialogue or action has to take place against a vague or empty background or be performed by vague or nondescript characters.

Spend a few sentences, either before or after the first line of dialogue or action, setting the scene. If nothing else, use a trick another writer taught me:

Write the dialogue or the action to get started on the scene. But then stop and ask yourself, “Okay, what happened in the minute leading up to this?” Then write that before (or mixed-in with) the dialogue or action. Almost certainly it will include the character(s) arriving in the setting, and the reader seeing, smelling, hearing, tasting, etc. the scene.

Now, a brief digression — Some writers who don’t know any better believe less is more, that it’s better to let the reader fill in even the big details. Those writers are purposely vague so the reader can invent what s/he sees (hears, smells, tastes, feels?) as s/he reads.

Those writers would write that a character ran into a barn. They would not describe the shape, colors, smells, tastes (dust on the tongue?), sounds, or feel of the barn. For that matter, they probably wouldn’t describe the character or what the character was wearing either. These writers would leave all of that to the reader’s imagination.

And I believe very soon most readers would close the book and either delete it (ebook) or donate it (paper).

Because the writer’s job is to directly engage the reader and place him or her into a story filled with the characters, sights, sounds, flavors, smells, etc. the writer has in his or her mind. The writer’s job is to make the reader see, hear, smell, etc. what the writer, through the POV character, is seeing, hearing, smelling, etc.

The reader doesn’t have to make-up these things as s/he goes about everyday life. And if the reader’s everyday life is more interesting to him or her than your novel, um, you lose. For more on this, see “Readers Like to Fill-in the Blanks (Uh, No)”.

Really, this entire skill of not writing “thin” boils down to writing openings.

If you can write a good opening to start Chapter 1 and a good opening to start each succeeding chapter and/or major scene, you’ll automatically apply the right amount of scene description throughout your novel outside of openings. For a lot more on this, please learn to slow down and take your time.

As I mentioned earlier, if the opening of a novel doesn’t pull me in, I’m gone. I stop reading and move on to a story by another author or find something better to do. I intend no disrespect to those authors. They just need to learn the basic skill of writing a good opening.

I show fellow authors the respect of requiring from them the same thing I require of other professionals: Quality. Proof that they know their craft. I can’t be a devoted reader if I’m not impressed with their skill.

Two quick tips for writing openings —

1. Every word is filtered through the POV character’s physical and emotional senses. Every word. Feel free to ask if you can’t quite wrap your mind around this.

2. Use all five of the POV character’s physical senses, if possible — but NEVER use only the sense of sight — and at least hint at the POV character’s current emotional sense (dread, joy, disgust, etc.) in every major scene. This might be as small as “he smiled” or “she scowled.”

To learn a great deal more on how to write openings, click You’ll find several posts there.

And for more on how to use all five of the POV character’s physical senses when describing the setting, click

Okay, now I’ll stop blathering for awhile. (grin)

Talk with you again soon.

Of Interest

See “Forensic Hypnosis for Memory Enhancement” at

First, if you missed it, you can read “Business Musings: How Writers Fail (Part One)” at

Then see “Business Musings: How Writers Fail (Part 2): Fear (Established Writer Edition)” at

Disclaimer: In this blog, I provide advice on writing fiction. I advocate a technique called Writing Into the Dark. To be crystal clear, WITD is not “the only way” to write, nor will I ever say it is. However, as I am the only writer who advocates WITD both publicly and regularly, I will continue to do so, among myriad other topics.