I spent the past seven days up in San Francisco visiting The Daughter at college. Total fun zone. Daughter needed some grown up clothes, so we hit the mall in typical Mom/Daughter fashion, where we commenced to picking out clothes faster than the beagle cranks up the blender. After hours of trying on and making final decisions, we headed up to the cash register. There…clear across the store…were matching vests to the two suits we were buying.
WTF? methinks. Why on earth wouldn’t the store organize all the suit pieces WITH each other in order to entice shoppers to buy the entire set? Instead, they very nearly lost a sale. I say “nearly” because we jetted across the store and bought the vests as well. But geez, what idiots. How many sales have they lost because shoppers had no idea those vests exist?
Oh sure, I get it…stores think this strategy will encourage shoppers to go through the entire store – kind of how Costco continually mixes up the store shelves. Just when you get used to finding olive oil on the far right of the store, fifth aisle down, they screw things up and you have to search the whole store, only to find it on the left side, eighth aisle down. It forces shoppers to wander through the whole store. Irritating as hell because I’m always in a hurry.
And that’s what gets me about so many manuscripts I read. Information is scattered around a story and dumped in strange places, leaving me to wonder why the author buried it there, rather than putting it where it would have the most effect. If a character has an usual aversion to the color red and freaks out at seeing someone wearing a red raincoat, then this is a logical place to include a bit of backstory behind this particular peccadillo – not five chapters later when it doesn’t have the most impact.
This literary selling the vest across the store from the pants and jacket creates a disconnect from the ensemble. Because I don’t see a logical connection to the problem, I might decide to quit reading the book. It’s all about organization, baby.
If you make readers ask too many questions that go to the very foundation of your story, then you’ve blown it. They simply will not follow you. When I’m editing a book, I find myself asking the author to move bits of information to other parts of the book because I believe the reader needs that information in order for the story to make sense and flow evenly.
So give particular attention to where you’re selling your literary vest. Is it across the store? If so, is that the absolute best place to sell it? Or does it need to be hung next to the pants and jacket?
And don’t even get me started on shoes…!