Tuesday, November 27, 2007

Who Is My Reader?

Who is my reader? How do I impress him? How do I overcome his skepticism? These are not academic questions, but questions that go to the very heart of deliberate, purposeful writing. Writers are often tempted to write for the"market" or for some other vague, nondescript entity that is hazy in their mind. Such indulgence can be a form of laziness because, in imagining a vague entity, one allows one's writing to be lazy--it's easy, in other words, to impress a vaguely defined reader, for such a reader is as forgiving as the author's ego. But the vague phantoms of the writer's imagination don't read, and they don't buy books--real individuals do, and these real individuals must be impressed, have their skepticism overcome, and have their time respected.

Who do you write for? The genre fanatic? The housewife? The teenage boy? How old is your reader? Why is he reading at all? How do you impress this reader? You do so by taking your reader seriously. Taking someone seriously means respecting his time, money, attention, imagination, and intelligence. In essence, it means being ethical instead of self serving in your desire to simply "get it out there."

Respect his time and money.

Readers are busy people. They are not rich. They are husbands, wives, sons and daughters; they have jobs and worries--they want writing that respects them by being clear, direct, and well executed. Slow openings, bad editing, poor story construction and other symptoms of laziness signal to the reader that the writer is not taking them into account or is doing so only peripherally. Lazy writing makes the reader sorry he spent money on your book. It makes him feel cheated.

Lazy writing does not respect the reader's time. It is vague and requires labor to digest. Why should the reader invest his precious hours in your cryptic ramblings? When you read the work of great writers, or even writer who are merely competent, you notice that their writing is clear, logical, and focused. Such writers don't waste words or space, they don't pad around; the logic of their writing is so easy to follow it almost doesn't require thinking; their focus is so clear, nothing dangles or is left unused in the writer's project of creating meaning. There is a great deal of discipline evident in good, professional writing; and this discipline is evident to readers, and they know that they are being respected.

Make it interesting.

Who is your story supposed to interest? Without a clearly imagined reader, the answer is most likely anyone, which means, in practice, no one. But if you have a clear imagine, a living concept, of a reader in your mind, he becomes a person for you, and you write to interest this person, to engage his imagination, intellect and to entertain him.

Suppose that you're writing a children's story. Do you even know children of the age group you want to write for? Try volunteering at a local elementary school as a story teller and see if you can even engage their interest. It's a lot harder than it seems because children, like all people, are intelligent, not dumb. The same insight applies for any potential reader, whether the mystery buff, the technothriller fan or the literature connoisseur--all want to be wowed. How do you wow them? How do you overcome their resistance?

Logic, focus, clarity.

Good writing has the following hallmarks--logical development, arrangement, and movement in some direction. Good writing has a singular focus and clear destination. It moves to this end with clarity and grace. Bad writing is the opposite-it lacks the logical connections, it has vague focus, and it is often unclear. The writer mocks the reader with bad writing, and who wants to be mocked?


cheryl anne gardner said...

I think the easiest way to do this is for the author to write what they like and want to read. They should excite themselves ... which in turn, creates an emotional investment in the story. When an author is emotionally invested in the story it comes through in the words, the character depth, and the plotline.

If you like cryptic plotlines and having to think while you read, chances are you are not alone. You are your genre. To try to be something else would be fake, and it will, undoubtedly, read fake.

When an author does not emotionally invest in the story, it becomes nothing more than an exercise -- and we know how most people feel about exercise!

Henry Martin said...

Well said Cheryl.