The Dyslexic Reader

I’m dyslexic, and I seldom read a novel, which I suspect is a common experience. Until my own novel writing career took off, I had never bothered to question my situation. My reading was almost exclusively confined to non-fiction, with various aspects of science being my go-to read. It is perhaps strange that my interest in science and the scientific approach didn’t provoke me to look at the reasons why I didn’t read novels. Probably like a lot of us I just accepted that my slow pace of reading simply didn’t lend itself to the novel format.

The art of creative writing is a craft which takes time to learn. As a dyslexic, I didn’t initially warm to the idea. To my surprise, however, I became thoroughly absorbed by it. This was the point in my ongoing learning process when I started to question why I didn’t read novels. Why did I enjoy non-fiction at the expense of fiction? I could be completely absorbed in a book or article about say, climate change. In other words, despite my slow pace of reading, the content captured my full attention.

My novel reading experience has been pretty hopeless. It’s not that the novel had little to say; it’s because the book didn’t capture my interest within the period of my limited attention span. This is the essential difference between fiction and non-fiction. You would obviously expect a page of non-fiction to tell you something specific and interesting about the subject of the book or article. This does not necessarily apply to fiction. It is essentially a balance between your personal reading pace and your attention span. I have attempted to read novels where, after a chapter or two, I have asked myself, “what is this book actually about?” Quite often (horrible generalisation) it has been filled with dialogue between characters which appeared to have little or no obvious relevance to the story. What the author was trying to achieve, if I had persevered, was to paint a picture; to show the characters or plot to the reader by means of subtle nuances in dialogue and description. The mantra is “show don’t tell”, and when it works well, and the reader discovers the characters or plot seemingly by themselves, it can be most satisfying. The problem is that the writer has already lost their dyslexic audience.

We all know there are issues concerning choice of font, print size, line spacing, and all the rest of it. These issues are important for some people, but in my opinion a significant factor for the dyslexic reader is the pace of the storytelling and characterisation. If you’re a slow reader and the story line is slow to emerge – well, you can see the problem.

The opening chapters of a novel are the most difficult. The author usually needs to establish some of the key characters and, in so doing, to set the scene or plot. My first novel is told through a group of characters and is essentially a study of the human condition. I have tried to bring my characters to life to the extent where the reader shares their feelings of joy and despair, and I’ve tried to achieve this in a gentle and often humorous way. None of this is easy to achieve. It takes time; perhaps too much time for a dyslexic reader. Here lies the problem for the slow reader with a short attention span. I try to write with pace, probably to accommodate my own attention span. There is a limit, however. Tell the story too quickly, and the conceptual richness is lost.

If, like me, you seldom if ever read a novel, I would like to persuade you to give it a try. My suggestion is to find a novel that has enough pace to capture your full interest within your allotted attention span. This might not be easy to spot initially. My own novels may not suit you; murder mysteries, or thrillers, are more likely to be fast-moving. Choose a genre that suits you. Look at a random page. You don’t know the characters or the plot; you don’t need to. Read the whole page and then think about your reaction to it. Is it going anywhere? Are you left wondering what happens next? Are you intrigued by one of the characters? If so, this might be for you. Alternatively, if your reaction is that nothing of interest has really happened, then this is maybe not for you.

A lot of authors would say this is a terribly unfair way to assess their work, and so it is! You might have chosen the dullest page in the book but, as a dyslexic with a short attention span for reading, you have at least given the author a chance they wouldn’t otherwise have had. You’re not trying to understand the story. You are looking for the writer’s style, and I would argue from the dyslexic point of view that every page should clearly progress either the storyline or the formation of a character.

In terms of story development, my first novel, Autumn Daffodils – Charlie’s Story starts at a leisurely pace. This is an essential element of the story; it appears to be a slow and gentle tale. This is actually a deception; the pace and emotional tension gradually builds all the way to the end. My second novel Autumn Daffodils – Joanna’s Story is quite different. It starts where the first novel ends, so we already know the characters. All the emotional intensity from the first book is transferred immediately into the second book. I deliberately attempt to maintain that momentum right through the novel. Now, here’s the thing. When I talk to readers about the two novels, the thing which is commonly mentioned is their pace, especially the second book; readers really like that aspect. This is what an author most wants to hear – that the reader couldn’t put the book down.

I am afraid I didn’t set out to write a novel which would appeal to dyslexics, but I suspect I might have inadvertently done so. My two novels are a long way from being categorised as romantic fiction. However, you do need to be a bit of a romantic to enjoy them. If you’re a reluctant reader, Joanna’s Story has tremendous pace; it may well capture your attention, quite possibly by the end of the first page. As we say in the blurb, “together these two novels are greater than the sum of their parts”. Therefore, I discourage people from reading the books out of sequence, since you would undoubtedly lose the springboard that would otherwise propel you into the second book. However, there is “a story so far” prologue and, if you struggle with a short attention span, Joanna’s Story might actually be the ideal novel for you.

I can only encourage you to look at fiction from a fresh perspective and give it a try. My books are available from Amazon and the eBook will certainly not dent your finances. If you did give my novel a try, I would love to hear your opinion. You can comment below or email me at peterturnham.author@gmail.com

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