Who's driving the bus?

One belief I keep hearing from newer writers is that they don't have to bother with all the "technical" stuff (like proofreading or formatting or grammar or actually having a plot) because they hope that the reader will be "swept away" by their marvelous story.

Let's put aside the fact that I think that's much more likely to happen if you have the "technical" stuff down. I actually have an issue with the "swept away" imagery itself.

I mean, of course I've been swept up in a story--I got a lot of exercise when I read the His Dark Materials series because I kept missing my bus stops. (Like, seriously, every day--it got really annoying.)

But when people talk about being "swept away" in real life, it's usually when they're talking about some horrible mistake that they made. People who get "swept away" a lot tend have multiple divorces, children who won't talk to them, criminal records, and no money.

In other words, I feel like saying, "I want the reader to get swept away" is somewhat akin to saying, "I want to take advantage of the reader" or "I want the reader to make a really bad choice by reading my book." It suggests to me that you aren't actually interested in pleasing the reader in any kind of meaningful way. You're being a little sleazy.

I'd rather go with the imagery of taking the reader someplace...on your bus. You are the bus driver, and you want to take the reader on a wonderful tour, where they'll see all kinds of marvelous things and love it and recommend you to their friends and take all the other bus tours you have on offer.

(Yes, I ride the bus a lot. You can read on the bus; if you read while you drive everybody gets all upset.)

Now, in order for your passengers to relax and enjoy the trip, they need to believe that their bus driver can drive a bus.

I cannot express how important this is. This is Step #1, without which no other steps can follow. No one is going to relax and enjoy the ride when they are doubting the bus driver's ability to, you know, drive.

I've ridden a few buses where the drivers were having fairly spectacular mental breakdowns. I responded one of two ways.

Way #1: White knuckle it through the ride, and then call the bus company and report the driver. The reader equivalent is me death-marching my way through The Fountainhead and then telling everyone what an awful, awful book it is.

Way #2: Get off the bus as soon as I can and take one with a different driver. This is probably what most readers do--they bail. Fast. You know the saying, "You never get a second chance to make a first impression"? That's very true with books because when people hit something that makes them question the ability of the writer, they just stop reading. You never get any sort of second chance. It's all over.

Obviously, I try not to have mistakes in my work. I also try not to have things that look like mistakes. I try to avoid the appearance of error, as well as actual error.

It's especially tricky for me because in the Trang series, there are characters who do not know or use proper English grammar, and all the aliens' speech is run through these translation devices that hatchet up everything. So I have to make very sure that people realize that I am doing this on purpose--I'm not doing it because I'm ignorant or because I can't write well. I'm doing it because it serves the story. I can drive a bus.

If you must go with the "swept away" concept, please bear in mind that successful seducers are very detail oriented. They put a ton of effort into the trappings of romance, hoping to distract you from the lack of any actual love. Indeed, 90% of the time it works because the seducee thinks, Gee, if they're doing this much work, they must really care! (No, they don't--at least not about you.) Successful seducers aren't sloppy and they don't leave things to chance--getting someone to the point of being "swept away" takes a lot of planning.