What? Content Design for novels?
First off, I'm not going to try and explain Content Design better than the incredible Sarah Richards of Content Design London. If you're not familiar with the concept in UX, I highly recommend checking out her site and her article on the topic. I'm going to dig into something a little more out there: Content Design in fiction writing. Yeah.
I know. It seems kinda odd to take a principle of the user experience and try and shove it into the writing process. After all, authors commonly struggle to finish projects, do they really need to worry about another layer of process?
I'm not writing this to bog anyone down, and my first piece of writing advice to the novice writer is "Just write it bad, then make it better." So consider this article more targeted to authors who have mastered finishing their manuscripts. Sarah Richards says this about content design:
“It’s about using data and evidence to give the audience what they need, at the time they need it and in a way they expect.”
I draw on my skills as a content designer when I write fiction. I think about my audience and what they are looking for, then I consider the best way to give it to them. I think all authors do this to some degree. We want to tell the story in our hearts, but we also want people to like it, rave about it, even. When we write, doing research on our audience, their wants, their emotional state, and their needs can help us craft a story that resonates more than if we'd written it in a bubble. A few of my content design strategies for fiction:
Consider what reading level your audience is comfortable at. While most people can comfortably read at higher reading levels, it increases their cognitive load. If your purpose is to tell a story to entertain, consider using a lower reading level. Websites like the hemingwayapp.com can be a great tool to gauge what reading level you're writing for.
There are two types of "chunking" to consider when writing fiction. One is how you break up your chapters. If you write long 20-30 pages chapters, it can be hard for modern audiences to read your novel because there is no natural break in the flow. Modern readers are short on time and often read during commutes or right before bed.
The second kind of chunking is in the writing itself. By keeping paragraphs shorter, it makes the writing easier to read. A large wall of text without any white space can be overwhelming. Eyes often skip around the page and it can be hard to keep the thread.
As always, it comes down to who your readers are; but also, what they're reading on. Check out this article in the Wallstreet Journal about the rise of readers using smartphones to buy and read books. It's clear that we should be considering how our books will appear on mobile devices. I propose we should think about it during the creation and editing phase, instead of relying on our publishers to reformat for that market. After all, print, e-reader, and mobile are all vastly different user experiences. Would the same book hit the same way on all three platforms?
Mobile-friendly content is easily scannable. It balances whitespace and text in a way that is pleasing and also helps communicate meaning. Like a chain of passionate text messages, the pauses and hard-enters can have as much meaning as a hundred words.
I'd love to know what you think. Were you familiar with Content Design or Content Strategy already? How do you consider your audience when you write?