June 14, 2012

Audience Lessons from a GPS

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).


Jo Michaels said...

Oooooh I like that. Misleading your readers is a huge nono! Good advice and a nice use of an example. GPS lady is my BFF as well :) WRITE ON!

Eloise said...

I want to give enough subtle guidance but not tell too much. In other words, I don't want to be explain-y. Any piece that explains too much just drives me nuts. On the other hand, those that have not given enough guidance strike me as being not well-written.

Callie Leuck said...

I have mine set for a male British accent because I find that accent calming, which is something I need when driving! Personally I don't know how anybody gets around with a GPS in the DC area, but actually I mute it most of the time. I only have the voice on when I'm completely confused; for some reason just being able to glance at a dynamic map is more useful generally.

However one time we were using my GPS in my friend's car driving from Indianapolis to Chicago, and she wanted the voice on and WAAAY loud and then she kept yelling at it because she missed turns and stuff that it didn't warn her about. I kept telling her that she should just stay on the main road until it says to turn, but she insisted on going off the road for the wrong exit and then screaming at the GPS, which she repeatedly called "Jeeves."

So some people need more direction than others.

Crystal @ Serving Joyfully said...

So true! I followed you over here from a comment you left on another blog about nagging...I had the same thoughts as you so I came to check out your blog :)

One of my biggest pet peeves is when I see posts linked up to linky-parties with super catchy, interesting titles but the content has NOTHING to do with the title...(although to some extent I realize that we all perceive and connect things differently, so maybe they really do think it relates and it just doesn't to me?)...ANyway, thanks for sharing :)

zolar said...

sometimes GPS are lying..

Tia Bach said...

Jo, It just shows you how much I think about writing when the GPS makes me think of readers!

Eloise, And thus the fine balance of writing. It's like balancing feathers on one side, boulders on the other.

Callie, Thanks for the laugh. You are so write. They should sell GPS in Beginner/Intermediate/Advanced. ;-)

Crystal, Welcome! I love Kate's blog, so I'm honored you hopped over! I agree. I don't like to be deceived. Tell me the truth and let me figure out how to relate to it.

Zolar, Good point. Or you simply have the old version. :-)