Saturday, July 20, 2013

How Swiss Cheese and Connect-the-Dots Keeps Writing Interactive for Your Readers

If you write like I do, you've probably done this too: over-explained your plot point or drowned a passage of writing with heavy description down to the exact grain of wood your furniture is built with. It's great that you've joined Pinterest, but you don't want to put off your readers with overkill. Writing is like perfume, cologne, or maple syrup. Too much is a bad thing. Make a note. Okay, maybe not the syrup.

A helpful visual I use is the Swiss Cheese Narrative. Make sure to leave your reader enough holes that they can actively participate in your story without filling in every single minute detail. This is especially important early on. Beginning writers often think they need to take charge of their writing and explain why they put every single thing into their story. This makes for tedious reading at best, and at worst you've lost your reader. Overboard explanations are a sure fire way to turn your readers off and make them put your book down (shudder).

Does this mean your writing should be, dare I say it, cheesy? Of course not. But if you think your reader won't get something unless you've shown it five or more times, you're likely to find your reader somewhat irritated by your insinuation. Readers are not ignorant. Trust your reader to do their job and see and find connections as you lay them down. Don't beat them over the head with a cast iron skillet plot point. Ouch!
What you can do is make sure that the trail of breadcrumbs, or the dot to dots, or the color by numbers, or whatever version works best for you and the story you are telling keeps the reader busy with juggling all kinds of interesting parts that will eventually paint a masterpiece. If you've done it right, they'll feel like they personally helped your main character along the way, and that's how you keep your readers happy and turning pages, unable to entertain the idea of closing your book or setting it down.
A good writer knows that once the book is written, it's no longer about what the writer intended, rather it's what the reader finds and experiences along the way that matters. If you've done your job, you won't have pinned your reader down and forced them to see something in your character or your story in the exact way you meant it, and nothing else.
Don't limit your reader to the one view of your story you think they should see.

Write in such a way that the reader can draw their own conclusions, make their own connections, and peel back layers of your story you never even dreamed were there. You may know your book cover to cover, word by word (especially if you've spent any length of time editing your story), but you don't know it exactly like your reader does. You might even be surprised by your readers and learn more about your characters and the story once your book is out there and being read by readers everywhere.
Let your readers have a say in what they uncover in your novel.
So, let me ask you this: If you could choose, would you provide your readers with a rigid outline, forcing them to stay inside the lines of your story, or will you hand them the paintbrushes and paint and let them show you what they can come up with on their own?

I dare you to take the risk of trusting your readers and let them have a say in your story. You didn't write it to keep it to yourself, did you? So, why not let your readers have a part in your story as well. Share your thoughts in the comments below.

Happy writing!


  1. Great post! Readers should get to fill some things in for themselves. It makes them part of the story.

  2. With my writing, I love to add mystery here and there by leaving some things open, or even hinting at something that may not be exactly true. I want my readers to try to come up with their own conclusions (Is he a killer or not? Will they fall in love . . .?) and then I want them to be surprised with what I wrote to answer those questions, or even rejoice in the fact that they were on the same train of thought as I was.

    Excellent post! It is a great reminder and lesson for writers.