Ok so I skipped over that…

At the moment I am listening to audiobooks a fair bit. When one is working with your hands, particularly on fairly undemanding things, they’re a great distraction (and yes, I am still needing distraction. Dear bureaucrats…) From the very fast reader who also writes (very slowly) point of view, it has been interesting.

You see I have been listening to a fair number of books I know and love – comfort reads. It’s a stress-coping mechanism, like hard physical work. They are books that I know well, that I have read often. Which is why LISTENING to them is a bit of a shock to me. I begin to realize how incredibly wordy some of my favorite books are. And just how much some characters waffle on… (And not just Joyce in the THURSDAY MURDER CLUB (yes, can recommend. Richard Osman is a fine observer of human characters.)).

Several things come out of listening that you don’t pick up nearly so easily in reading. The first is orchestration. Osman (mentioned above) ends every single chapter on a cliff-hanger. And then jumps scene. His chapters are extremely short, so it’s endurable. On the other hand, I have been listening to Pratchett. Besides leaving me feeling piteously inadequate, his orchestration sometimes is a cliff hanger… and sometime the new chapter is. His inter-character dialogue (the bit between the children in the start of EQUAL RITES springs to mind shows a vast understanding of the dynamics of child-to-child interactions and dialogue. It’s just brilliant.) But I think the thing that struck me most (particularly about Pratchett’s work) was just how intricate and different his descriptive segments were. And… um, I barely noticed while reading them.

I suppose slow readers do notice. Do savor the word-pageant. I try to write it… but the honest truth is… when, like me, you read a line at a time (not a word) you kind of hand over the detail work to the brain-scut. Just gimme the Cliff-notes version, brain. What happend? (I’m not proud of this. I didn’t even realize I was doing it.) I do wonder – now – just how much this affects readers in general. Do you skim/skip bits. Does the three page description of the hyper-pronger-whatsit on the Galactic Imperial battle cruiser make your eyes glaze over, or do you just skim it and hook in at the next piece of dialogue?

Tell me. I need to know. And if you’re writing, maybe you do too.

22 thoughts on “Ok so I skipped over that…

  1. I skim as a matter of course.
    But when I encounter something I know I’d the author’s obsession which does nothing for the characters or plot (clothing for Robert Jordan, food for GRRM), I skip entirely.

    1. Reading some of the other responses, I have to register disagreement.
      I do not like character descriptions.
      A hook or two that tells me something about how the character sees and interacts with the world (or vice versa) is great. Setting the scene is fine. But I don’t care about the character’s eyes. Or hair. Or their nose. Or their lips. Or the shape of their chin. Or their fingers. etc.
      If it doesn’t affect anything, leave it out. I’m perfectly able to imagine a character without a lot of prompts.

  2. For some books, reading them and listening to the audio version is like enjoying two different books. What I have noticed is that the response I have to an audio book is tremendously dependent on the match of the narrator to the written material. More than once I have given up on an audio book when the narrator just didn’t match the voice of the book. sometimes it is something as simple as this book should be read by a male range and another one should be read by a female range. Doesn’t appear to have anything to do with the author it’s just how the book voices.

    1. The two best book narrators I personally have ever run across were Jim Dale (Harry Potter books) and whoever reads the later Hamish MacBeth books.

    2. Stories naturally flow differently depending on medium.

      The Silmarillion is a bit of a slog to read, because it was written to mimic the oral tradition. But listening to it is an almost effortless joy.
      Likewise, the “begats” of the OT, or Beowulf. Or even the hilarious story your buddy one told in a bar.

      It happens the other direction, as well. I can’t listen to lots of audiobooks because the timing and sequencing are all cattywumpus.
      Ghost stories translate especially well. Pulp action, Detective stories, and horror work pretty well. Stories that give the sense of a narrator, or ones framed to have one of the characters explicitly recounting his experiences, work.
      Beyond that? I think an adaptation would be more apt than a straight conversion. But I know Audible has a policy that the audio version must remain word-for-word with the text, and reasonably certain other services have the same policy. . .

      1. I’d call the Silmarillion a prose epic poem, so I can see why it might be better read aloud, but I still doubt if find it effortless joy to listen to, since it all ends in default until Earendil.

        BTW, somewhere I have a record of JRRT reading his poetry and maybe some excerpts. Unfortunately, it got scratched up decades ago when I loaned it out to a friend, and his little brothers got involved….

  3. Reading it twice gives a very different effect sometimes because you can slow down once you know.

      1. ‘dear bureaucrats’? I’d suggest dead bureaucrats, except that they regenerate like the heads of the hydra, and they have a tap root in our pockets.

  4. Some years ago, I read the Black Jewels trilogy by Anne Bishop. At the time, I didn’t realize how sparse her descriptions of setting are. She sketches an outline, but unless the place is 1. vital to the plot or 2. appears over and over (like SaDiablo Hall), she gives you enough to build your own mental picture, then moves ahead. In contrast, the people in the story get a full description. The first time I read the books, I missed that. Going back, I was surprised at how much my mind filled in that just wasn’t written.

    I tend to go heavy on the description when I first introduce a place or person, then just touch lightly later, to remind me and the readers who, what, or if there has been a change. As a reader, I enjoy the description, unless it turns into an infodump-without-a-cause.

    1. On a similar note:

      Recently, I was reading one of Louis L’Amour’s mysteries, “The Street of Lost Corpses,” looking for techniques I could steal, er, I mean, learn from and adapt to my own short stories. After reading the story, my initial instinct was to praise L’Amour for his detailed descriptions of the various settings. However, when I went back looking for those descriptions, they weren’t there. Instead, I found that L’Amour was basically using “stock sets,” places that we’ve all seen in a dozen movies: the abandoned mine, the empty warehouse, the dingy motel, the alley after midnight. He would give one or two good descriptive phrases, and then trust that the reader was familiar enough with the basic setting that they would imagine the other details. I don’t know if he was counting on them imagining that he had actually written in those details, but that was probably a nice bonus!

  5. I’m a fast reader, and I skim. I’m not proud of this either. Many times I catch myself at the end of a paragraph, having basically read the first sentence and just jumped over the rest of it, and have to make myself go back and read it again. Not only do I skim description, I may miss plot elements as well. (Readers like me are a good reason why the tell-them-three-times rule should be observed.)

    Once on vacation by myself, in a foreign country and desperate for something to read, I came across a novel I would likely never have read under any other circumstances and found myself enjoying it. I had to focus on it as I had nothing else to read. I keep reminding myself of that experience, but it is a hard habit to break.

  6. I can’t listen to audio books, when I tried in the past, it drove me crazy with how slow they are. I used to be a fast reader, but lost it in the last 8-10 years, I’ve found. I have also lost my detail retention ability. So, I will be going from my previous memory/ability when I say that sometimes I would skip details if they “droned on”, or if they repeated too much. But, sometimes I enjoyed the details. I always disliked when the author didn’t describe the people better. (At least a Hair/Eyes/Skin/major detail or flaw)

    Writing, I tend to be light on detail unless it’s needed to make something clear about a character or place. But, probably heavier on description (more like a romance level of description) than would be likely for other genre? I have a character that is hyper-sensorial, so there is a lot more detail in their segments, but it’s a contrast to the other characters, where there is much less.

  7. I am a skimmer and a skipper; it’s been known to come back and bite me, but for a lot of books that’s all they deserve. Sometimes it’s the plot rather than the description that gets skipped; I have much more vivid memories of “The Whiteness of the Whale” and the whale processing bits of Moby Dick than I do of the character stuff, and my attempts to read Honor Harrington foundered on finding the ships and weapons somewhat more interesting characters than the humans and treecats, but not interesting enough to keep going.

    1. I feel almost exactly the same way about Honor Harrington. I was interested in the characters, I was interested in the strategic and political events that led to the climactic battles, but I couldn’t get interested in the battles themselves. I generally skimmed them to figure out if anyone important died and what the final result was, then picked up at, as Dave said above, “the next line of dialog.” Occasionally this bit me, when Honor and co. mentioned how much they missed some character or other, and I found myself saying, “Wait, Bob is dead? When did that happen?”

      In my case, though, I was interested in Weber’s characters, not Eric Flint’s, and when Flint’s started to take over the series, I decided it was time to move on.

  8. Back when David Weber was active in his conferences on Baen’s Bar, it was interesting to hear him discussing the Honor books.

    One side was “complaining” about the infodumps while the other side was “complaining” that David wasn’t giving us more information in the infodumps. 😆

    Oh, I’ve never gotten into audiobooks and I think it’s because the “readers” in the audiobooks don’t speak as fast as I can read.

    Oh, I’m one to skim over infodumps. 😉

  9. I don’t have so much free time to devote to reading, but when I read I tend to read every word, I like to see the scenes in my head. Right now I’m about, oh, 80% of the way through Atlas Shrugged (for the first time!) and I’m seeing it in my head like the old Bruce Timm/Paul Dini Batman: The Animated Series. But there have been parts I’ve skimmed: When there are two (or more!) page long speeches, I tend to skim through those. I already agree with and understand a lot of what they’re saying, I don’t need to be convinced… But I do want to know how it ends a little sooner.

    I’ve never tried an audiobook. When I’m driving I like to listen to music. When I’m reading, I want to be in the proverbial driver’s seat, maybe sort of like when I was a kid and I found automated playsets baffling. I want to make the toy cars move, not some machine. I want to see the words in my head, not have someone else put them there.

  10. I never got into audio books. Medium-awful hearing has a lot to do with it. I have artificial stapes (because of otosclerosis) in both ears, and the left took three tries to be reliable. Protip: if at first it doesn’t work, maybe a different ENT is a good idea. Should have thought of that one…

    I do the weekly shopping, and the 45 minute drives to and back from town are dedicated to music. At lunch in town, I’ll read on the Kindle. Some weeks, that might be the only time I have to read.

    If I’m doing low-attention work around the place, I’ll sing or do mental planning for the next project; I can’t carry a tune in a strip-mining bucket, but only the dog will complain. Gave up on earphone radios even before the otosclerosis and never owned an iPod.

  11. I tend to read at speed, mostly because I don’t have time. But I grew up reading a lot, so I got lots of practice.

    I have also found writing sparse is actually harder for me than writing verbose.

  12. Audio books don’t work for me, if there isn’t a visual component I get distracted from the story and have to keep going back.

  13. Depends on the story and the author…. Turtledove repeats himself verbatim so very much that I skipped big passages, one of the problems with multivolume series. Some I skim, generally action stories etc., authors like Tom Clancy. But where the plot is intricate and nuanced, or comedies, I read slower and even re-read certain passages, Hoyt, Heinlein, you… but Pratchett is the best, I hate getting to the end of his books, they really immerse me. But generally it is a combination of all of the above.

    Thansk for the stuff you write, I do appreciate it.

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