For instance, If I write a novel which has the following:

“The universe goes through a gradual transition from one condition, to a different condition, without any abrupt changes.”

After reading the inscription, Maru closed her eyes, and tried to imagine that for while.

“Things in the universe are ever-changing. They have been undergoing a continuous change for billions and billions of years, and they will keep like this forever. What once was an plant or an animal will transform in something else in the future.” Icaro said.

In cases like this, should I simplify the words so that a 10 years old kid can understand the novel? Should I give practical examples? Or connect that idea to the characters?

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    I really don't think the question as currently worded is what is really being asked or answered here. Maybe something more like "Should I simplify my descriptions to appeal to more readers?" Apr 27, 2011 at 14:16
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    What audience do you want to attract? Average readers or 10-year old kids? That's quite a difference. And do you want them to understand the novel or enjoy reading it? Jul 21, 2011 at 10:39

6 Answers 6


I guess there's different schools of thought on it, but for me, I'd say you should worry about attracting readers after you've written the novel the way you think it should be written. What are the demands of the plot? What do you characters need to do, or understand? Tell the story in the best way you can, using the words that work best for you, and THEN worry about who's going to be reading it.

You can fine-tune as needed, and tweak areas where your betas get confused, but if you try to write a book based on what you think some poorly-defined 'average reader' wants, you'll likely end up with an unoriginal mess. In my opinion.


"Intellectual" often means a labyrinth of language. (Try reading any doctoral dissertation.) Try this instead:

“The universe changes gradually, from one condition to another, without any abrupt changes.”

Same concept, same meaning, but more fun to read. If you want poetic imagery, you could use something specific that nails down the same concept.

I think your original text, while hardly difficult, is needlessly complex, almost as if it were trying to sound sophisticated by using big words. Using simpler language can fool a reader into reading something. By the time they realize the concepts are complex and (hopefully) interesting, they're hooked.

Just because you're using simpler words doesn't make the concepts themselves simple.

  • Except you change the voice of... an inscription. Would you suggest changing a quote from, say, the bible (or any other historical source) so it is "easier to read"? I wouldn't. It has to match whoever said/wrote it in-universe. If a character does express herself in a very stilted/complicated way, then so be it. It's the problem of the reader. It should(!) go without saying that if such a character is in the story, the story must balance this by being even more enticing (and not by being simpler). Apr 29, 2011 at 23:05
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    If the bible in question were fictional scripture from a fictional world, yes, I'd change that. If it were an existing bible, I'd search out a translation that read well alongside my style. "It's the problem of the reader" -- this is a path to the reader putting the book down, eliminating their "problem". Poetic, stilted language in scripture can be a lovely thing, but the inscription quoted doesn't work on that level. Apr 30, 2011 at 15:16
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    Still, if you change the inscription, you change what's behind it... maybe a whole civilization (not knowing who put the inscription there in alexchenco's example). Which of course means potentially changing the whole book, on a fundamental level. Apr 30, 2011 at 15:29
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    That's correct, yes. Apr 30, 2011 at 15:35

The average person can understand what you wrote. The average reader is smarter than the average person. You're in no danger of losing people intellectually, at least not with that passage.

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    The passage above is very abstract, so it might not be the strong hook (attention grabber) that you're looking for. Maybe try a more concrete example? E.g. "My pet parrot ate a grasshopper, turning the energy and matter of the insect into the energy and matter of a bird. Then my cat ate the parrot, turning bird into cat." And so on. I'm sure you can find better wording, but that's the gist.
    – RobotNerd
    Apr 25, 2011 at 17:55
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    Wait, wasn't that Renfield's thing in Dracula? ;) Apr 25, 2011 at 19:30
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    I agree that the passage is abstract. I kinda like that the quoted stuff is abstract. But the narration is abstract, too. Consider "tried to imagine that for a while." This is not only abstract, but also a narrative summary, which distances us from her thoughts. Try replacing that with her actual thoughts as she tries to imagine. Also, the whole passage (including the quotes) would benefit from tightening. For example, we likely already know that Maru is reading the inscription, so you can delete "After reading the inscription". Apr 25, 2011 at 19:50
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    @Dale Emery "The average reader is smarter than the average person." So you mean that people who read are generally smarter?
    – wyc
    Apr 26, 2011 at 5:57
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    I may be wrong (and smug), but yes, that's what I meant. Apr 26, 2011 at 6:06

How? By not trying... you seem to be asking "Should I make an 'intellectual' novel attractive to an [ill-defined/undefined] average reader by making it less intellectual". But that's "dumbing down" and not "attracting".

Me, I always say: write it the way it has to be written. Let your characters speak the way they'd speak if they were real people (for some in-universe definition of real, of course ;-)). If one of your characters is a university professor who's notorious for being hard to understand even for his peers (intellectually), then... write him that way. But maybe add someone who's able to translate ;-)

Do not try, do never try to make your novel/story attractive to everybody. Because that way madness (and failure or mediocrity (if there's a difference)) lies.


IMHO, the average reader is not reading a novel to be intellectually stimulated on that level - they are reading to be entertained.

Roping readers into following complex, "intellectual" concepts works best as an underlying theme subtly explored through the plot and environment, not directly through thinly-veiled pseudo-philosophical exposition of any sort.

That way, those that are inclined towards abstract thought and dissection of the authors intent can do so, while those just wanting a good read are more likely to get it.

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    The average reader of what genre? I think the average reader who grabs a mass market paperback is looking to be entertained, but the average book club reader wants to be both entertained and stimulated, and at any given time some average readers may bounce back and forth between the two.
    – justkt
    Apr 27, 2011 at 12:21
  • So what you're saying is... on average more people want to be entertained than intellectually stimulated when reading? :) Apr 27, 2011 at 14:35
  • not at all. I'm say it all depends on what is "average" for your audience.
    – justkt
    Apr 27, 2011 at 14:36
  • @justkt: Fair enough... but the question from the OP is specifically aimed at the "average reader". Not "average reader for X genre or audience". So to answer the question in your comment: the average reader, period. Apr 27, 2011 at 14:40

You attract readers with a clear, immediately understandable hook, something like this:

"Happy families are all alike; every unhappy family is unhappy in its own way."

Did that get your attention? It's the first sentence in Anna Karenina, by Leo Tolstoy.

Like a good ad that's selling something, your goal should be to give the reader a reason to read the next line. Tolstoy definitely achieved that goal!

Your relationship with a reader is very intimate and will know that you are writing at the level that you think a 10-year old might understand. Focus on the essence of your idea first, and its meaning will come out on its own. Don't be afraid to write, edit, and rewrite - and write for yourself, not for an unseen reader.

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    Tolstoy did achieve it... or did he? Depends on the measuring stick: by sales today, he doesn't. He's one of the classics, but not a big seller (those are the Dan Browns...). Was his stuff a big seller way back when? Don't know, and actually, I doubt it. So... did he achieve this goal? Is he thus a good example? (Yes, I'm a contrarian ;-) Apr 29, 2011 at 23:10
  • The quote is a good example of a sentence that's immediately understandable, yet does not reveal enough to allow it to stand on its own thereby getting the reader to read on. I doubt sales are a good measure of a book's 'goodness' - there's plenty of great free content around. May 4, 2011 at 20:33
  • Sure, sales are no indication of quality. But of attractiveness, which is the point of this question. 'least I thought so... May 5, 2011 at 12:18

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