I’ve always heard you should write for your readers. Which seems reasonable. After all we want them to buy our books. Let me share how I understand what writing for your readers implies.
Oftentimes our rough drafts are full of lots of stuff. All the things we want to say about everything. All the details we know about each character, every room, all the historical data. EVERYTHING! Hopefully, during your numerous rewrites most of this wonderful stuff will be deleted. At least they should.
You don’t agree.
You say the details are important. Depends on the details.
Without the details who will understand the complexities of the heart surgery our hero’s mother is going through. Even though the hero’s mother never makes an appearance in the book.
An in-depth description of the room the character walks through and never returns to again.
Telling the reader what the villain is thinking while we are writing from the hero’s point of view.
Determine what details carry the story. The character’s obsession over having a heart attack. The villain telling the hero an important fact so the reader can piece together the clues along with the hero. Less is more is the adage for writers to cling to as they try to keep the reader engaged.
Real people in our real world
There are real world examples to justify even more why we write to the reader.
We all have at least one friend, relative or even our spouse who over explain things. You know what I mean. They can’t just tell you they got this great deal on bananas at the store. They tell you about all the other fruit too. Or you ask their opinion on which paint is best for interior painting and you get the history of the creation of paint.
Then there’s the people (all of us can talk like this when we’re excited.) They tell us every detail about an incident and then circle back around and tell us over again. Maybe adding a detail.
Of course, none of us has ever written like this. Ahem.
The readers follow the characters
Readers remember what they read in a previous chapter. We don’t need to repeat every detail when a new character enters the scene. This isn’t real life it’s fiction.
So, if your characters are cops and they are investigating a crime, when the chief enters- they fill him in. That’s the sentence.
Unless there is information we haven’t told the reader about the crime we don’t need to restate it. The readers go everywhere with our characters so we don’t really tell it like we would in real life.
Keep dialogue on point
Small talk unless it tells the reader something about the character should not exist. So don’t have your character pick up the phone, say hello, and chat about trivial things for a page. In our real world we might spend an hour visiting with a friend before getting to the point. But our readers aren’t that patient. They want to find out what happens next.
Keep your vocabulary engaging yet simple
Mark Twain said “Why use a five-dollar word when a fifty cent word will do.”
Unless you are writing to academia or a technical book, keep your words simple.
If a reader has to reach for the dictionary, you’ve lost them. Be sure the word can be understood within a sentence. And even then is there a simpler more descriptive word. A fancy word that no one knows does not impress a reader. Enough of those in your work and they will stop reading.
We aren’t writing for our English teachers. Adjectives are not the readers friend.
“Mary was miserably silent.” The sentence tells the reader nothing.
They want to experience the silence.
“Mary sat in the hard back chair, her lips flexing between a pout and a straight line. Tears fought for space on her cheek.”
This tells the reader so much more. They can feel her misery.
How do your characters talk?
Does your dialogue for a teen or child sound like them or their parents?
“Why, Charlotte, you should be ashamed of yourself.”
Instead: “Char, you’re so messed up.”
Give them flaws
As much as we want our heroes and heroine to be the pillar of perfection. Show their flaws. This gives the reader hope. Following the story of a woman fighting depression and winning might encourage a reader to get help.
A heroine who always says and does the right things is not only unrealistic, it’s boring. The reader can’t relate to perfection. Because our readers are human.
Non-fiction writers need to reach the heart
Even when writing non-fiction, share your ideas so the reader can relate without pointing fingers at them.
Avoid writing: you should…If you had or your problem….
Rather, say I have found. Research shows.
Share a story from your own life illustrating the point without sounding arrogant.
A check list
My challenge to all of us. Go through your manuscripts while you’re editing and before submission and ask yourself if you are getting to the heart of your reader.
Am I preaching or encouraging.
Does my character’s armor have some tarnish?
Do my ten steps to…whatever…have an ah ha moment.
Do I need to explain the history of the zipper to establish a time period?
Does this wonderful scene with my secondary characters shopping really move the story along?
We want our books to be passed around, shared and recommended and it will only happen when we focus on the readers and not ourselves.
What revelations have you come to understand about writing to the readers? Share in the comments. I’d love to hear it.
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