Do you ‘see’ what’s happening in a novel while you read it?

I’m reading a thriller in which the good guys are following a bad guy who doesn’t realize he’s being followed by another bad guy who doesn’t earlize he’s being tracked by a team of bad guys. The good guys notice this parade of trackers tracking trackers and have to decide just what the hell’s going on. In a Peter Sellers movie, this would be funny. In an action/thriller novel it should keep readers turning pages. As it is, it’s a mess.

Recently, I asked “Do you ‘see’ your story as you write?'” As I read about this mess of people following people, I can’t see it. In some ways, it’s too complex. But more importantly, the action is happening so fast, the author (apparently) didn’t have time to take breath and describe anything coherently. So, I can’t ‘see’ what’s going on or the ‘arena’ in which it’s going on.

At this point, I feel like I’m reading the author’s rough sketch of the action without being allowed to see the action because, probably, the author couldn’t see it either. To some extent, this is yet another show don’t tell issue. Obviously, a writer cannot show everything unless s/he wants a thousand-word novel. But s/he has to show enough for the reader’s imagination  to be drawn into an event that seems real rather than a mind game–or an outline.

In the novel I’m reading, the author has a penchant for followers following the followers. But he isn’t controlling his material because the reader is being lost in the shuffle without a clue, especially after multiple scenes in which everyone seems to be following everyone.

This is the last thing a reader wants and should be the last thing an author wants. Do some editing. Fine-tune the settings and the people moving about within those settings. Otherwise, there’s nothing to see–and that means readers throwing down the book in disgust. If the reader can’t ‘see’ it, the writer has failed big time.


Malcolm R. Campbell is the author of multiple novels and short stories:


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