Before you write me off as finally going off the deep end, I have to share an experience I had with my GPS today. My daughters and I were driving back from the beach. A horrible map reader, I am completely dependent on my GPS to tell me where to go. At no point do I consider straying from its suggestions. Even when a sign seems to disagree.
Occasionally it steers me wrong, but it's rare. Even then, the nice lady tells me to "take a U-turn when possible" and I still find my way.
What could this experience possibly have taught me about readers? Okay, I'm getting to that.
I get annoyed when the GPS tells me to turn right in 50 miles. In 50 miles, nothing happens. Usually, it's a reminder message to not veer onto a different highway by accident. There's not an actual turn. To me, all it really needs to say is, "stay on 64W for the next 150 miles" no matter which way that road veers.
This got me thinking. How much guidance does a reader need?
I know as a reader I do not want to be treated like I'm stupid. And I hate to be manipulated. If I'm reading a story that suggests a big directional change is coming and nothing happens, I'll get annoyed and frustrated.
As a writer, we need to lead our readers to the ultimate end point. It's even okay if they see other characters or story points that make them want to go in a different direction for a moment, as long as they ultimately stay on track. But we need to do so in a way that is entertaining and thought-provoking without spoon-feeding the reader.
But, we can't throw them a bunch of characters and disjointed story and expect them to weed their way through. If you ask them to "take a U-turn when possible" too many times, they might just pick a different place (or book).