I love bulletins. Whenever I go to an event I make sure to grab one at the door so I can meticulously follow along as the event progresses. At choir concerts, I keep my finger on the current song, and make sure I know what song is coming next. Same with the theater. You better believe I always know what act we are in.
I don’t do this because I am bored or distracted, rather because I love to know what is coming up. It gives me a sense of security because I know exactly what I have gotten myself into and how to prepare. Oh! This show is three hours long with five acts? Let me go to the bathroom now!
Think of the first few paragraphs of a chapter as the usher standing outside the theater doors. He is there to welcome people in, hand out the bulletin, and help people find their seats. Once the audience is comfortably settled in to their seats, they start to peruse the bulletin. If they anticipate they’re going to be there awhile, the audience wants to know what they’re in for.
The same is true with writing. When readers start a chapter of your book, they want to know what they’re in for. Introduce your topic to your reader and then tell them how you are going to say it. This shows your reader you are organized and allows them to prepare. Think of these statements as signposts along the road of your writing: “Next chapter three examples ahead!”
Writers often leave out these signposts because they are afraid of sounding pedantic, robotic, or repetitive. However, these signposts do not need to lengthy; they can be a short sentence or two, or even a numbered list. Instead of detracting from your writing, a signpost will show structure, organization, and reinforce your ideas. In fact, far from being impersonal, these signposts help your reader feel like you are right beside them, walking them through your writing.
Another reason writers leave out signposts is because their writing isn’t well-organized and therefore they cannot explain the structure in advance. A clear signpost can help the writer say on track as much as the reader!
So, before you write next chapter of your book, make sure your readers know what they are getting themselves into! (Just in case they need to take a bathroom break first!)
This post was written by Kerry Wade, Assistant Editor.