#AtoZChallenge: Q is for Quiet, Please!

For the A-Z challenge, I am posting writing and editing tips to help you improve and enhance your writing.

Q is for Quiet, please!

quiet

My novel, ‘The Black Hours’, deals with the rather nasty events of the 17th century English witch hunts, perpetrated by the notorious Witchfinder General, Matthew Hopkins. In order to write the novel, I had to do a lot of research, and that research often took me to some fairly horrible places. I read things and now know things that I wish I didn’t.

When it came to writing the book, I wanted others to know all about the horrific things that had happened to REAL people, how they suffered and died in the name of religion, superstition and hatred. So, I duly included lots of horrific details. It was harrowing to write at times.

And it was harrowing to read. My first ‘beta’ reader was my son. Although he came back with lots of positives, he also said it was too much. There was too much horror. It needed toning down. The reader needed time to pause, to breathe, to recover.

I took his criticism on board, toned things down and then passed it, terrified, chapter by chapter, to my fellow MLitt students.

Again, the feedback was great and very positive. But there was still one common criticism. It was too dark, too horrible still. Could I tone it down? Give the reader a break?

So I did. The novel is still realistic (I hope), still contains the truth of what happened to many poor souls in that awful time. But there are also moments of lightness, of humanity, that I hope prevent it from being too much.

So writers, think about your readers. Yes, we know that action is important, that the plot must move forward, but if your book is fast paced, or dark, then do make sure to give your reader time to recover, to pause and collect themselves, to come up for air. Some time for quiet, please.

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19 comments

    1. Thanks Rosie, and you’re right, it can put a reader off. I think that sometimes writers need to remind themselves who they’re writing for, which can be difficult when you feel strongly about something.

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  1. This post really struck a nerve with me. I had a similar response from the first round of beta readers for How To Climb The Eiffel Tower. That draft had too many graphic details about the character’s cancer journey. I wanted so badly to do justice to what the character was going through, that I lost sight of how disturbing the details could be for the reader. The later drafts had less graphic details and the final draft ended up with even less of what my editor called “the nasty bits.”

    You are so right in saying that we need to give readers quiet moments within the story to rest and recover from the action.

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    1. Thanks Elizabeth – I understand exactly what you mean. When I was researching I kept reading things and thinking how awful it was and how people should know, to do justice to those people and their suffering. But you need to strike a balance which isn’t always easy to do when you become emotionally invested.

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  2. This is so hard. My current non-fiction relates to WWII and Far East Prisoners of war, so I really understand about the difficult reading. I have been staying with relatives and gave one of them The Black Hours. He is really enjoying (!) the subject and the writing… but complained about the domesticity (i.e no national events – that’s men for you). I also got ticked off by the female half for spoiling a love story and travelogue (Border Line) with all that depressing and unpleasant stuff about suicide.

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    1. That’s really interesting to know – what interests me is the ordinary side, the ordinary people not the big events 🙂 and I enjoyed the suicide stuff (enjoy probably isn’t the right word but you know what I mean!)

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      1. Me too, it’s the ordinary people not the power movers that fascinate me. The Black Hours did initiate a discussion about history being about powerful men by similar men or their sidekicks. It is important that someone writes about the rest of us.

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