Thursday, November 10, 2011
Sensing the Reader
1. We have a story to tell about what impacts us deeply.
2. We have a story to tell that will affect others deeply.
3. We want to make a living.
One may argue that we write for all three reasons. I can agree with that. I can also disagree with that. While some of us may be mature enough in our writing journey to incorporate all three categories into our writing regime, others of use are not. Frankly, the earlier we are in our career, the more likely we can only handle one concept at a time.
Everyone leads off with either 1 or 3. It's natural.
Look at 3. We want to earn a living as a writer, so we hunt for markets and write whatever fits the mold. Nothing wrong with that. It's just that the writing will sound hollow, regardless of the syntax, grammar or structure. You can get all the parts right, but the heart may not be engaged. We're thinking business and income first. As we grow, we learn that passion has to fit in somewhere, whether it's yours or that of your character or subject. As you travel in your journey, you hopefully learn that depth matters.
Look at 1. Many commence their writing career with a cathartic story to tell, whether fiction or nonfiction. The first chapter of my novel began as a real-life moment from which I spun fiction. It was a story that I could see in my head; one that took me years to record on paper. Many writers have memoirs, person issues, obstacles overcome, loved ones lost, family biographies or personal beliefs that they feel need to be disseminated to the world. Ideas that are chocked full of passion! They need to tell these tales. They need to express themselves. They tell themselves that others need to know these stories to live better lives, when in reality, it's more about recording these moments for posterity. In most cases, they aren't sure they could define the readership of such a story. As any seasoned writer knows, "everyone" isn't a readership. The scribe must write for a particular type of reader.
The commonality of 1 and 3 is this . . . the reader is not a prime consideration. Sure, many writers in category 1 "think" they are writing for others, but they aren't. It's a justification of writing their own story. Many writers starting off in category 3 think they can just tweak their words meet the needs of others, but it's not an on and off switch.
Conclusion: A good writer writes for the reader. He knows the ages, social levels, geography, education, experience, professions and, most of all, needs of his reader. The new writer struggles with this, but over time realizes that it's just as important as writing well. When he feels the reader looking over his shoulder at the end of each paragraph, he's in the zone. Like developing voice, sensing the reader is a talent that takes time, but is well-worth cultivating. Content isn't king . . . the relationship with a reader is.