Reading is visual.
Have you ever picked up a book, looked at the number of pages, then put it back down? I have. It’s not that I don’t like reading; I love reading. Some books just intimidate me by their sheer size. It’s like going on a first date and planning a wedding. It’s too much, too soon. With some sweet-talking reviews from people I trust, I might take on a longer book, but as a rule, that’s too much time commitment for me to give to an unknown.
My daughter loves a good, hefty read like Nicholas Nickleby or Lord of the Rings. The longer, the better. I like shorter novels like Brave New World, memoirs like Laughing in the Dark: A Comedian’s Journey Through Depression, or the latest style guides. I’d rather read in short bursts.
Too Long. Didn’t Read.
I’m not the only one who feels this way. Twitter limits messages to 140 characters, which seems to be just the right length for most people. On other social media sites, the acronym TLDR pops up commonly in response to long posts. It stands for “Too long. Didn’t read.”
As writers, we need to take the visual overview of our writing into account, especially when writing blogs, websites, and books designed for e-readers. Remember that reading is visual, and a lot of people won’t take on a long commitment so easily. Long, unbroken paragraphs intimidate people into not reading.
Break it up.
Even if it goes against all you learned in English class
- Break up overly-long paragraphs into shorter ones.
- Use subheadings for visual appeal.
- Use bullet points for easy scanning.
- Use pictures, if appropriate.
- Leave plenty of white space for an uncluttered look.
- If you’re writing online, keep the size of your phone’s window in mind.
If you’re writing the next Nicholas Nickleby, don’t worry so much about this. The editor at your publishing house will make it all look pretty. Know your readers and write for them.
As a general rule, writers write what they love to read. Are you, like my daughter, ready and willing to commit to a good, long book? Or do you, like me, commit with caution, reading in short bursts?