Zone Out Sections – Keep Out!

Do you have “zone out” sections in your manuscript? Don’t know what they are? Imagine this. You’re on the phone with your best friend and she’s doing most of the talking. She’s going on and on and on. At some point, as much as you love her, you realize you haven’t heard anything she’s said in the last few minutes. You “zoned out.” The same thing can happen to a reader when she’s reading your book. All of a sudden, she “zones out.” Why does this happen and how can you avoid it?

There are usually two reasons a reader will experience a “zone out.” The writer might go into too much detail. This causes the reader to skim until she encounters something more interesting like action or dialogue. Or she actually reads every word without absorbing a thing because she daydreams until something in the story catches her eye. She doesn’t even realize she’s doing this until after she comes out of the coma and can’t remember what she’s read.

The other reason readers “zone out” is because the writer hasn’t shown us the scene. Instead, she’s told us about it. As a result, the reader doesn’t experience the emotions the character feels, and a story without emotion is boring. Readers need to become a part of the story and have a sense that they’re right in the scene along with all the characters. In order for them to have this experience, they need to feel that slap across the face. Rather than the author simply writing Jenny slapped Marie across the face, she needs to show this. She needs the reader to hear the whack of the palm on her cheek, feel the sting of skin on skin, and taste the metallic flavor of blood because the inside of Marie’s cheek tore against her braces.

While it’s important to situate the reader and have details so she can have an image of the scene in her mind, this shouldn’t be dumped into one lump. Setting details should be woven into the scene in an inconspicuous way. Always keep the scene moving. If you stop to add details, you risk losing the reader.

Make sure to remember the five senses. That doesn’t mean you need to use all five of them in every scene. That would cause a sensory overload. However, you should try to show as much of what the character experiences as possible without TELLING.

Have you experienced a “zone out” when reading? What about when writing?

Lynnette Labelle

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