Many readers can develop stop-itis, a deadly (to your novel) malady. Here I’ll share five tips to help fiction writers create books immune to stop-itis.
1. Who’s the good guy? A lack of clarity about who to root for can make readers stop reading. If fiction readers do not fall in love with the protagonist in the first chapter and develop a distaste for the antagonist (or admiration for her/his genius) stop-itis is likely.
2. Too much backstory. I see this in too many fiction proposals. Don’t be so intent on setting the story in context that you forget today’s readers want action and conflict now—right now. Don’t make them wait.
3. Lack of clarity. If your readers ask, “Why is this happening?” or “What’s going on here?” they can succumb to stop-itis. However, if you have a clear plot outline and remind yourself of it at the start of every chapter, your readers will not want to stop reading.
4. Offended sensibilities. If readers develop moral outrage at what one of your characters is doing or saying, stop-itis can occur. Suppose the interaction between a couple offends a reader’s perception of how a man should treat a woman—even if your story has a compelling plot that requires the interaction, the reader may set aside your novel. I’m not advocating milquetoast character interactions, but be aware of the possibility of offending so you can
mitigate an offense before it occurs.
5. Overuse of Scripture. I believe the Bible is inspired and useful for reproof, correction, and inspiration—but beginning fiction writers often overwhelm the reader with truth. They insert Scripture in and out of context and slow the story so much that stop-itis occurs.
Les Stobbe has worked in Christian publishing as an editor, consultant, and literary agent, more than 50 years. Les has authored or co-authored 14 books and more than 500 feature articles, as well as provided editorial leadership at six publishers. He is a member of the Guild’s Editorial Board.