The August 12, 2015, Wall Street Journal article by Jennifer Maloney titled “The Rise of Phone Reading: It’s not the e-reader that will be driving future books sales, it’s the phone; how publishers are rethinking books for the small screen” raises an important question for us writers:
How do we write for our books to be more easily — and enjoyably — read on smartphones?
While the WSJ article talks about disruptions while reading on smartphones, for many people that can be the normal reading experience even when reading a print book. What I think is important for those of us who are writers is to consider our reading audience today — an audience that often has fragmented attention wherever they are reading our books.
For writers the basic starting point may be how to keep our readers clear on information mentioned earlier. (Even when reading a long newspaper article in print or on the screen I often have to go back to find the earlier reference of who this person is who is being quoted later in the article.)
This is an important goal as people who get “lost” in their reading are probably much more likely to stop reading that particular book.
How do we help our readers keep information clearly in mind?
For self-help books and other similar “advice” books this process might not be that challenging. These books are often divided into small segments on various topics. These segments may automatically make the information easier to remember.
With dense nonfiction books such as biographies and histories, the biggest challenge for writers may be how to help readers keep all the different people, place names and dates straight?
The answer to this may be similar to that for fiction:
One technique that I have already started for story chapters serially added to such sites as Wattpad and Skrawl is that I try to “gently” remind readers of who certain characters are.
Here is an example from my in-progress serialized fantasy story ROAD TO ZANZICA on Skrawl:
Florian, the steward of main character Perth’s uncle Cresin am Sorca, is a minor character. Yet for purposes of the story it is important to remember he is the steward and therefore in a position of knowledge.
Florian is introduced at the end of Chapter 4 when he is taken prisoner. To remind people at the beginning of Chapter 5 who he is, I wrote:
The prisoner, Cresin am Sorca’s steward Florian, rode tied to his horse led by Perth and followed by Leeze.
I expect that this kind of “gentle” reminder will become very important as more and more people read snippets at a time on their smartphones and elsewhere.
How many fairies can dance on the head of a pin?
In addition, we may consider whether less is more when including minor characters.
For example, do we really need so many students noted by name in a classroom scene? Or can we perhaps use descriptions for minor characters who are never seen or heard from again after one mention? Maybe instead of writing “Jayne Neimers in the back row raised her hand” we could write “The student in the back row raised her hand.”
In adaptations of books to films, characters are often combined to make it easier to visually follow the story. We may have to consider utilizing this strategy for our books — combining characters of a story where possible.
And finally, I continue to feel strongly that shorter paragraphs are better. That break at the beginning of a paragraph gives the eyes a momentary rest as well as providing an easier entry when returning to a book in the midst of a chapter.
In conclusion, please leave in the comments below any ideas you may have for writers to make it easier for people to enjoy reading books on smartphones and other such devices of the future.
(In the sci fi story THE UPHEAVAL that I am writing now — a prequel to the serialized sci fi story THE MOTHER SIEGE on Wattpad — the teen protagonist reads a holograph book on her personal comm unit.)
© 2015 Miller Mosaic LLC
Phyllis Zimbler Miller (@ZimblerMiller) has an M.B.A. from The Wharton School and is the author of fiction and nonfiction books/ebooks, including HOW TO SUCCEED IN HIGH SCHOOL AND PREP FOR COLLEGE and the romantic suspense spy thriller CIA FALL GUY, as well as newly written books not yet published. She can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org