As a reader, how often have you heard or said it? "The (language, verb tense, factual error, irritating character, clear evidence the author knows beans about Dallas) pulled me out of the story." We probably all have, and being pulled out of the story can of course be disappointing and may even make us put the book down for good. But is being pulled out of the story always bad? I think not.
You know what pulls me out of the story in a good way? Beautiful language. Just the right verb or noun, or an original metaphor or simile that just nails a comparison top the list. I leave the story's world momentarily to think, Oh my, that is gorgeous; that's the kind of thing I want to do; this is a good writer and in the next instant plunge back in all the more eagerly. Some readers, it lately seems to me, want nothing less than full immersion in the storyline itself from first page to last. But is that realistic, and it is the truth about the reading experience? I believe reading is interactive. Different parts of my brain, heart and spirit are engaged in different ways as the story unfolds. At times I dive deep and almost forget myself; at other times I ascend a bit (trying to imagine myself in the character's situation, say); at other times I come to the surface to ponder something for a minute or say, "Oh man, that's a great phrase," and then dive again, all the more excited about the story precisely because the good writing has penetrated my consciousness.
Yet, too much pulling out of the story interferes with formation of the "I'm part of this world" experience that can catapult a story to favorite status among readers. Being pulled out due to less-than-skillful writing, whether it's the choice of present tense when the story seems not served by it, a violation of the reader's suspension of disbelief, factual bloopers, or clunky language, is obviously worse than being pulled out for a neutral or positive reason. I'm reading a novel now that I don't want to identify because this post isn't an actual review of that title. It placed in recent award competition and for good reason: The story is engaging and original, and the book has considerably more strengths than weaknesses. I'm very interested in what happens next. But...you guessed it. Phrases such as "She had glossy black hair with pink cheeks" pull me out of the story. Her hair has pink cheeks? "Their silver armor reflecting in the hot sun..." Naw, either the armor reflects the sun or the sun reflects off the armor, but the armor doesn't reflect in the sun. Glinting would be a better verb. "Everything about her seemed finer and more delicate than the average person"? Nope, compare traits to traits, not traits to people. And at risk of being really picky: "'Go away,' __ thundered, in a voice that even made __ quake." The sort-of-lazy ways we talk shouldn't make it into our third-person narrative. The placement of that little word "even" affects meaning. "Even made __ quake" means the voice made __ do several things, of which quaking was the extreme. What the author meant was "made even __ quake," which means __ was the least likely of those present to quake, yet she did. As I said, I'm still reading and I'll read to the end with interest. But I'm not one who can just read for plot; in fact, reading just for plot pulls me out of the story. Top-notch writing, meaning in this case the stellar use of language, may pull me out for a moment to gaze at its beauty, yet that's the very thing that keeps me most happily immersed for the long haul.
How about you? What pulls you out of a story? Is that always a negative experience for you? Or do you think it can be good, even part-and-parcel of what it means to read a story?