Every writer has his methods of composing whether he outlines or pantsers. But there are standards in style and composition that everyone follows. Mystery novels are written, like most fiction, in the form of three acts. The first act establishes the crime and motivation, if the main character is an amateur sleuth. The second act follows the investigation, and the third act provides the whodunit and the hows and wherefores. Usually, the first and third acts together equal the second act in volume. That ratio among acts spurs my interest in Kindle’s percentages of book read.
Those percentages appear in the lower right corner of Kindle’s screen. In physical books, you can judge by the thickness of the book how much you’ve read. In the virtual world, that physical judgment can’t occur. The reader is blind. Kindle provides percentages to make up for that lacking in the virtual world. If the publisher or author includes advertisements for other books placed after the novel ends, the percentage isn’t accurate. Likewise, the new practice of placing the author’s notes, dedications, and thanks to friends, family, and colleagues also throws off the percentages. When the percentages aren’t accurate it’s annoying because I find the book’s ending comes much sooner than I anticipated, which lessens my enjoyment of the book. I think this proves that a reader’s anticipation of the ending is a factor for authors to consider. Most readers don’t want to be smacked in the face.
Perhaps because I’m a writer, those percentages attract my attention. If the investigation seems slow, I’m checking to see if I’m near the seventy percent mark because at seventy-five percent, I should get near to the denouement, the third act. If I haven’t been lead to two suspects by then, I question whether I’ve been given the clues I need to solve the case; whether the writer will pull the proverbial rabbit out of the sleuth’s hat, which can be a good ah-ha or cheap-trick moment. Infrequently I come across a very clever writer who’s stumped me. It isn’t often that getting smacked is a good thing, but there are times when the smack is more a surprise that delights.
If I’m truly engrossed in the book, I may never look at those percentages, but those books are few. The more twists in the investigation, the more engrossed I become. The sleuth’s insight into his own foibles and possible misinterpretation of the clues provides an element of humility that shows unbiased intelligence. Complications and continued backstory helps, too. Some advanced reader copies don’t contain that percentage information—annoying me greatly. And perhaps that is why I’ve noticed the lack. I read a lot of ARCs. Those percentages are like a gauge to me that aligns what I’m reading with the three-act structure. Without them, I feel as if I’m reading into the void.
As a reader do you check the story progression against the percentage of book read? As a writer are you aware of percentage progress in bringing the plot to conclusion?