A number of weeks ago, we looked at some of the most commonly cited pieces of Story feedback offered by First Look Readers reviewing novels. This week, we want to focus our attention on another core feedback category: Structure.
The Structure section of a Target Reader Manuscript Analysis report is all about the readers’ perception of the novel’s narrative architecture. Do they think the organization makes sense? Are readers compelled by how the plot unfolds? Is the plot clear? Are action, dialogue, and descriptive passages well balanced and do they flow well? Are there any elements that detract from the narrative?
Below, we’ve reviewed some of the most common structure-related issues First Look Readers identify in fiction manuscripts.
In one recent Target Reader Manuscript Analysis report, around 42% of First Look Readers described the reviewed thriller’s beginning section as “too slow.” Notably, many of these same readers reported that, once they slogged through the early chapters, the latter part of the book picked up dramatically and was much more interesting and engaging.
“I really didn’t like the beginning of the book at all,” one reader wrote. “The prologue was very wordy, too descriptive, and way too long, and the whole beginning of the book was very slow and plodding—a much slower pace than the rest of the novel. Once they started planning for the heist the book moved at a better pace and I really started to enjoy it.”
This is a common problem. When a book starts out too slow or isn’t engaging enough from the very beginning, it risks losing readers who may grow bored and give up before they get to the good parts.
The way a book ends is just as important as how it begins. Another recent novel reviewed by First Look Readers garnered extremely positive feedback overall, which made it all the more surprising when 55% reported that they disliked the book’s ending. These readers found the book’s conclusion too rushed, with insufficient detail and a failure to resolve some of the narrative arcs.
“The ending was very rushed when it didn’t need to be,” a reader wrote. “I was invested and then it just ended. I would have kept reading more.”
In this case, reader feedback revealed that the author needed to take more space to flesh out a proper ending. They loved the story and its characters, and wanted an ending that did them justice and provided closure. This issue of rushed or rough endings is another very common problem identified by First Look Readers. Building a strong narrative and engaging plot is key, but if the author fails to stick the landing, readers will leave feeling let down or unsatisfied.
Too many Subplots, Themes, or Characters
In one recent report, 39% of readers said that they found the overall story too scattered and confusing, muddled by too many competing subplots, themes, and characters.
“There is a LOT going on in this book,” said a First Look Reader assigned to this novel. “Parental loss, romance, loss of a child, mental health, scientific experiments, a contemporary war, the Vietnam war, etc.—All of those competing themes sometimes make the book a bit hard to follow. The reader can get lost in all the subplots.”
Readers generally thought this book’s core narrative was solid, but they sometimes struggled to make sense of or stay engaged with that central plotline when too many subplots or minor characters became distracting. This too is a very common issue with fiction: first-time authors have ambitions of crafting a vast, complex novel full of rich themes and deep character development, but too often this comes at the expense of a clear, well-paced plot. Too many balls in the air can make for a messy, confusing read.
More to Come
Did any of these issues resonate with you? Are there other structure-related problems you’ve struggled with in your own writing? Stay tuned for Common Issues in Fiction Manuscripts: Part 3, where we’ll be exploring reader insights on writing style, dialogue, and more. In the meantime, happy writing!