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Common mistakes that break reader immersion include:

  1. weak mechanics (spelling, grammar, etc.)
  2. implausible character behaviors
  3. echoing words, sentence styles, and images
  4. illogical world building
  5. conspicuous exposition (info dumping).

I found this information from Creativity Hacker who had conducted a study on reader immersion. The link to the original article is HERE. Jefferson, the author, put himself through an experiment where every morning he read an indie ebook and read for as long as he was immersed. When the immersion had broken three times, he stopped, and wrote a short report on why his attention had wandered. Then he did this study on the first 50 reviews and synthesised his findings. Now this study doesn’t have lots of participants (only one: the author), which weakens the study, but the findings are interesting!

Jefferson found a fascinating discovery. He broke down the WTF moments (what he referred the problems in the book that broke his attention) into three fundamental issues.

1. Story Building Problems (e.g., cliche plots)
2. Story Telling Problems (e.g., bad dialogue, show vs. tell)
3. Editorial Problems (e.g., spelling)

Even though editorial problems was the single most common WTF moment, mechanical editing only accounted for 25% of all the WTFs noted. It was the least common fundamental issue with these indie novels. Story telling problems was actually the biggest issue accounting for 44% of all the WTFs (and story building problems accounting for 31%). Check out the original article for some graphs and more details.

What does this mean? My interpretation is not that we shouldn’t worry about spelling and grammar because those things DO break reader immersion. They also make you look unprofessional. But even if you had a polished manuscript where multiple proof-readers have read through your work, it still won’t make your story as immersive as it should be, as good as it should be.

mistakesIt doesn’t REALLY surprise me that the big issue in indie novels are story telling problems. But it’s good to remind aspiring writers to really pay attention to the way in which we are constructing our sentences and ‘telling’ our story. I also think that the reason why this problem is so much more common is because it’s very hard to pick up on your own telling mistakes. And often it’s hard for your friends to do so too. It’s something you learn over time, from being very critical of writing, and being switched-on when reading good novels. You either need to have a lot of money to pay the content editors to work through your book (often in multiple stages) or to have great beta readers and editor friends that give you in-depth advice, sentence by sentence feedback. Ideally, you should try and get both.

I know as an aspiring writer I have paid for proof-readers, but have not paid for content editors. I do not have the money at the moment to afford the crazy prices of content editors. But I do have some amazing reader/writer friends who are dedicated to helping me improve. And I take their advice very seriously. That may be another key to this study. Indie authors are paying editors, but maybe only as much as they can afford (mainly proof-readers). After all, most aspiring authors do not have lots of money to invest into their writing. So even though they may be paying for proof-readers and their mechanical editing improves, their stories don’t.

So with story telling problems being the biggest issue in ebooks, what do you have to say as a reader and/or writer? Do you notice this too when you read? Are you trying to improve your story telling abilities as a writer?

– Ermisenda