I am intimidated by huge blocks of text.

Whenever I go book shopping, I like to flip through the pages for a bit, see if I like the writing style, read an excerpt here and there, check the size of the font (this is highly important!) aaaand check if the author has a tendency to write huge blocks of text.

I have quite a short attention span. Whether it’s work or writing or chores, I can’t focus too long on one thing. Books need to be gripping or else I’m lost. I recently picked up Cloud Atlas by David Mitchell based upon a recommendation and the trailer of the upcoming movie. In retrospect, I suppose it’s my fault that I did not look inside this particular book when I spotted it on the shelf, but I’d been looking for it for so long and I was so excited when I found it that I didn’t bother.

So today I decided to take a look, and I see this:

A couple of pages from my copy of Cloud Atlas.

I’m in trouble now. I do want to read this book. I always like to read books before their movie adaptations, but with blocks of text like that, well… it’s an experience I’m not looking forward to. I was hoping I just landed on a one-of-a-kind page, but flipping through it some more, I saw that David Mitchell has a penchant for avoiding the Enter key.

It’s not really just books either. Sometimes I come across a blog post with an interesting title and click on it, only to find that the blogger has lumped their words in a single paragraph, so I end up closing it quickly without reading a word. Work, too, presents me with several blocks of text, and I unfortunately can’t avoid them. It’s a nightmare!

I just want to know why it has to be that way. What’s to stop writers from putting breaks between every ten or twelve lines? What sort of literary value does a block of text have? All I get out of it is a feeling of general loss and distraction. Sometimes, the sentences go on and on and on without a single full stop!

I end up doing something I don’t like – skimming. The author has put words there for a reason, and I feel like I’m offending them if I start skimming, but I just can’t. My attention span covers 12 lines at the most and anything after that causes me to glaze over.

Does this happen to anyone else? Can you tackle blocks of text without hesitation? Why do you think authors resort to them?

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32 thoughts on “I am intimidated by huge blocks of text.

  1. I cannot tell you how much I agree with you. White space is so important and it makes a great contribution to text. Words in great blocks are unappetizing–I too have quit blogs because they write this way.
    Other blogs have too much going on around the text or going right through it, and still others are too faint–bloggers look at your stuff and make sure it is readable!
    Excellent post!

    • I’m glad to hear that you agree! White space is definitely important and makes reading easy on the eyes.
      Yes! WordPress allows us to preview our posts, so there’s no reason we shouldn’t take advantage of that and make sure our text is readable.
      Thanks you! =D

  2. I used to write huge blocks of text. Now, like you, I have a painfully short attention span. Sometimes I wonder why my editor let me get away with some of the stuff my current editor has found in those books. I think my entire backlist should probably be rewritten.

    I also try to keep my paragraphs short in my blogs.

    • Hmm. Well, your first editor might not have a problem with blocks of text. I mean, there’s nothing wrong about them, so I guess it’s just a matter of preference?
      I think it’s important to keep blog paragraphs short, because you have one shot at attracting a reader, and I think many would be turned off by walls of text!

  3. I’ve never thought about it before so I don’t think I have this issue, but I do agree with you on the font. I always check the font before buying a book: not too large, not too small, but just right!

  4. I’m much the same. Wall of text? I either don’t read at all or skim and probably miss the point. Which I hate when that happens, but sometimes you are indeed forced to read those huge chunks of text.
    It becomes even worse when the author decided to use a fancy font and do italics, because it looks great! Aaargh, unreadable

    • I remember that text books used to have many walls of text and I had to force my way through them whether I liked it or not, or else might miss something important. =[ I don’t mind italics as much, but something they can be unreadable!
      Thank you for the comment!

  5. I used to feel the same way.

    I still do, but what I have noticed in my recent readings (translations), big paragraphs appear pretty common.

    At first, I skimmed them and tried to pick up what was relevant. However, like you said, the author likely put those words there like that for a reason.

    Now, I just go slowly: I read a couple sentences, let them melt into my head, then continue on.

    If you can skim and get the meaning, by all means, go ahead. I don’t think you would offend any author. After all, they should be pleased you are reading their work. :)

    • Well, I can usually get the gist of what the author is trying to say, but often the words are lost on me. Sometimes I even end up reading a particular sentence two or three times before I can finally grasp it! And it’s more aesthetically pleasing to have some white space on the page.
      I will try your suggestion though, thank you! :)

    • Agreed! I recognize that blocks of text may not be all boring, but it’s difficult to tackle them. I wonder if that’s because I like dialogue though?

    • Fair enough! Some stories are like that, but the one I’m reading for example, consists of a number of long journal entries that can be boring to read without any dialogue or anything. =[

  6. For me, it’s more a function of how dense the writing is along with how long the paragraphs are. The writing in the example you posted doesn’t look to difficult (not like some classic books), so I’d probably be fine with it, although I agree it’s not that visually appealing.

    There is no real “right” way to divide paragraphs: basically, the paragraph should end when the thought it contains ends, which is pretty arbitrary.

    I’ve heard that ideally, paragraphs on a page should show variation – some short ones, some longer ones, every page looking different – to give the reader the sense of movement and progression in the story.

    Ultimately, though, attention span is a learned behaviour. You can train yours to be longer if you want. What Samanthaeden above suggests (read a couple sentences, let them melt in, then continue) is a good way to start.

    Hope you can get through your book!

    • It isn’t difficult, but well… it’s mostly journal entries with little to no dialogue, so it doesn’t make for a much entertaining read. There is no specific thought, but rather just some guy recounting the events of the day, which is why I think the author could’ve divided paragraphs in a better way.
      I agree that the paragraphs should show variation. If anything, it makes reading easy on the eyes.
      I’m going to try that suggestion and see how it works for me! =]
      Thanks!

  7. Me, too! I actually find it’s hard for my eyes to hold the proper place on the page. Without paragraph breaks, my eyes sometimes drop a line or two in large blocks of text. Have you ever caught yourself daydreaming while you read? It usually happens to me in large blocks of text.

    • I have actually! It’s easy to get lost when there aren’t any breaks in the text, and I do tend to skip lines as well. I’m struggling to keep up with Cloud Atlas! =[

    • See, I think I’d be too frustrated with the lack of paragraphs to enjoy that kind of book, but I will at least check it out. My curiosity has been piqued!

  8. I was always taught in school to keep paragraphs short because visually it is more enticing to read. I’m mindful of it in my blog posts. If I’m writing a draft, sometimes I’ll find that I’ve written a few long paragraphs because I was too focused on getting out my thoughts, but of course it is something I’ll fix when editing.

    Writers who habitually write long paragraphs just might not feel that they can break up the thought in an organic fashion.

  9. yambean says:

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