How Writing Quality Makes or Breaks the Reader Experience

Items set on top of an antique map: camera, photos, eyeglasses, magnifying glass, and a notebook open to a blank page

You’re reading a novel. You’re into it. Great story. As you fully inhabit another world, the worries of the day recede. Your body’s reactions synchronize with events and character experiences in the story. Emotions, chemical signals in your brain, and sympathetic physical reactions occur — a gasp, a jolt, a gulp or smile.

But what happens when an error rears up in the text? You flounder at a misspelled word and manage to brush it off, but just when you’ve sunk back into the story, you stumble into a sentence sloppy enough to warrant a reread.

Oops. You’ve popped out of the story.

We can’t fully inhabit our imagination and notice impediments to the experience at the same time. We’re either fully in the story, engrossed in a fictional world that feels real… or we’re sitting on a couch reading a book.

Who cares? It’s only a novel.

We care. Our brains are designed to care about stories. Well-told stories saved the lives of our ancestors. Without our human history of paying close attention to tales of danger and escape, we wouldn’t be here. Our brains know this at a deep level.

“Story was more crucial to our evolution than opposable thumbs. All our thumbs do is let us hang on. Story tells us what to hang onto.” — Lisa Cron, Story or Die

Our learning as humans is ongoing. In our continually changing environments we need skill infusions, and stories provide compelling lessons. We need to know how to get along with one another, how to solve new problems and remember solutions to perennial problems, how to be true to ourselves without getting dead or feeling alone, and much more.

If stories teach, the best stories teach deeper. They feel more real. They are real, so real you laugh and cry in your corner booth at the diner. After you read the last sentence, you clutch the book to your chest. It was that good. You stare at the little jukebox on the wall by your elbow and your eyes glaze as you replay the highlights. If you’re like me, after reading an excellent romance novel, you feel better, bigger, kinder, more hopeful — wistful it’s over, but grateful for the memories created. Also, somehow, more in love with yourself.

All of this from reading a story.

“Story is the language of experience, whether it’s ours, someone else’s, or that of fictional characters. Other people’s stories are as important as the stories we tell ourselves. Because if all we ever had to go on was our own experience, we wouldn’t make it out of onesies.” — Lisa Cron, Wired for Story

This is where the quality of the writing comes in. The higher the writing quality, the greater the rewards for the reader, including how deep the story’s takeaways land.

For an author, the devotion to a higher standard of writing requires investments of education, time, and money, and encompasses every aspect of creating a book, from genre and thematic choices to storytelling voice and style, to the details of copyediting. But the results of such devotion are unbeatable. Each rise in quality brings a greater likelihood of the reader clutching the book to their chest.

A reader’s unimpeded dive into a tale unites the reader to self, but also to something beyond the self, to a meaningful communal contact. A promise lives in the special place where author and reader touch inside an unputdownable story. We share a map. Together, we journey into unity, equality, and wonder.

“I connect with something larger than myself, as if there’s an unseen river beneath us, a river of song and story into which I can dip my nasty little toes and wiggle them around.” — Chuck Wendig, Damn Fine Story

Think of the first time you read a favorite book. Remember the feeling of your experience. Do you remember only with your mind, or does your body remember too? Do your shoulders relax? Do you smile? The words wielded by the authors of our favorite books cast the spell of the unfolded map. Quality writing tips us into the illusion, makes us believe we inhabit that other world.

Our bodies merge with excellent stories, remain inside them as we live other lives, love and learn as others, travel further than we do in “real” life. When too many typos and other errors burn holes in the map of a story, our attention and our bodies withdraw.

We don’t merely turn toward great stories, we turn into them. We become them.

So who do you want to be?

I guarantee there’s a tale to show you how. May you find those stories and topple into them. May they hold you close until you reach the far end of the map and emerge victorious.

Alice Archer is the author of The Infinite Onion and Everyday History, thought-provoking romance novels for strong hearts. You can subscribe to her newsletter to receive a free story, notification of new releases, giveaways, and more.

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