Thursday, 7 January 2010

Theme and Strategy: Part 2 - Pattern of Audience

Does writing to our readers matter?

According to John Steinbeck: In writing, your audience is one single reader. I have found that sometimes it helps to pick out one person—a real person you know or an imagined person—and write to that one.

And that makes sense, our readers are the ones who will buy the book and then have to suffer with our words.

How can we write for our readers?  Every story should offer a challenge to the reader in a form a puzzle to be solved. They want to be part of the story, given a chance to solve the mystery for themselves. (This is true no matter what genre you write.) You need to provide questions, each a mystery, each intriguing for them to answer. What will happen? Will she choose that man or the other? What's behind the attic door? Where is his wife?

Writing is like a chase. Coyote (the chaser - the reader) vs the roadrunner (the chased - the writer).

  • The reader tries to catch the writer by figuring out where the story is headed. If you make your clues to obvious, the reader finds it too easy to know what will happen. The chase ends and the reader feels cheated because you haven't challenged him. Predictability = Boring!
  • However, if the writer doesn't give enough clues, you are guilty of leaving too far behind. And out of the blue solutions are NO solutions. How did I arrive so fast just now? Easy, in a time machine. Please! What do you take me for? You risk the reader losing interest and giving up the chase.
  • The solution? Find a course that keeps you off balance but keep the writer in sight. Precisely at the moment when the reader thinks he knows what's going to happen, something else happens that upsets his theory and forces him to come up with a new one. As your story develops be careful not to give too much away but don't delay information too long either.
  1. No major unanswered questions.
  2. No clues unaccountable.
  3. No characters left hanging.
  4. All the pieces are in place and they all fit.


Kimberly Franklin said...

to me, writing is like tight rope walking: it's all about balance and positioning while moving forward to the finish.

If we move too slow or too fast, we will surely fall (loose our readers).

We are only successful if we balance, move at a steady pace, and position our clues, problems and scenes precisely.

Loved your post!

Ann Elle Altman said...

Thank you. Finding the balance is difficult. All writers need to work on it.


L. Shepherd said...

I can only write if I imagine that no one will ever read it. Ever.

Anonymous said...

I'm with L. Shepard! (Really.)

Well, Ann, you and Elizabeth must be writing to me tonight, because this is exactly what I needed to hear tonight. I'm a hash at plotting. I think I can write, but a writer has to be a director and choreographer and actor and cameraman - etc, etc.

I can write, I can hold the camera (though not steadily) and I can direct (some), but I cannot seem to master plot.

My problem is I'm scared to try. If it doesn't come easy, I get frustrated, then the writing suffers, then it all falls apart, like a collapsing sand castle.

Realizing I can do a rough draft and NOT post is helping. (Goes back to L. Shepard's point.)

*Precisely at the moment when the reader thinks he knows what's going to happen, something else happens that upsets his theory and forces him to come up with a new one.*

Really timely advice here, Ann.

~ Corra

from the desk of a writer

erica m. chapman said...

Great information!

I like the twists, those are the fun parts, but I agree you have to be fair to the reader :o)

Ann Elle Altman said...

L. Shepard, I agree with you sometimes. I feel like I'm stripping down naked in front of an audience when others read my work. Getting reviews have helped me overcome some of that but I still need to work on that.

Corra, glad the blog touched you... Also, I put up an add for TNBW, let me know if it annoys you and I can move it down a bit.

Erica, twists are important, that's what make mazes fun, but if you try to follow someone in a maze and they're too far ahead, you slow down or head back the other way.


Kimberly Loomis said...

Excellent post and advice. I think the four points at the end are perfect and succinct. Too often it seems people attempt to get clever and in so doing forget they're also accountable to the rules they set up.


Ann Elle Altman said...

When I first started writing, I did a great deal of research on writing. I created for myself a long list of bookmarks to different writing sites. I'm trying to make this blog a place where I can go to find the info I need.