Writing For The Reader’s Enjoyment

woman reading book

Write so your reader keeps following you.

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.

TwainKeep 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.

Avoid adjectives

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.

check list-tinyA 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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Killing Off Your Lovelies

Dagger in hand held forward pointing to the right

photo from morguefile.com

I’ve been finishing rewrites to my manuscript per my editor’s suggestion. Over the years since the first draft, I’ve had to learn to kill my lovelies. Scenes written from the POV of secondary characters. Scenes evolving around secondary characters and lots and lots of words were deleted from my novel. Reading through this latest draft I recall those scenes and miss them. But you the reader will never know they have been murdered and buried in a deleted scenes file. The secondary characters stories are thinner. But that’s ok. It’s much more enjoyable for the reader to know just enough details to keep reading.

Mark Twain wrote a story about a man who followed every rabbit trail of character relationships before he ever reach the true point of his tale. By then the man had forgotten what he was talking about. It made for a hilarious tale, but done intentionally because you feel your reader needs to know those details is far from humorous. I don’t want my readers to forget key details. Or be confused by waist deep information although useful to know only bogs the reader down in descriptive details.

Some of my lovelies have been reshaped. A secondary character’s scene becomes a brief dialog. He shares his experience after the fact. We don’t get to see him do it but we feel his emotions as he shares.

Some juicy phrases shrink to a few words. But those words pack a big punch. There are juicy phrases that have stood the test of numerous rewrites. Now they are even more memorable due to the edits around them.

I’ve learned to not get too attached to secondary characters just in case they are killed off. As other authors oft state some of those characters beg to tell their story resulting in another book. One of my characters is doing that for me. So, I’m happy to revisit those deleted scenes when it’s time to resurrect her story.

What about you? What lovelies have you killed off in pursuit of a great story?

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Mark Twain, Jane Austin and Me: A Lesson in Grace

A memory from earlier writing days came back to me when I read these quotes from Mark Twain someone had recently posted on Facebook.

Twain

“Just the omission of Jane Austen’s books alone would make a fairly good library out of a library that hadn’t a book in it.”
” I haven’t any right to criticize books, and I don’t do it except when I hate them. I often want to criticize Jane Austen, but her books madden me so that I can’t conceal my frenzy from the reader; and therefore I have to stop every time I begin. Every time I read ‘Pride and Prejudice’ I want to dig her up and beat her over the skull with her own shin-bone.”

If you appreciate his humor, you’re laughing. If you adore Jane Austen, you are probably glad the man died ages ago lest you beat him with a shin bone. I found a more interesting lesson here.

Reflections

Reading Twain’s quote reminded me of a time in the 90’s when a dear friend introduced me to her daughter. She wanted us to meet because we were both writers. Her daughter had been published in the United Kingdom where she had been living for several years.

When I inquired what she wrote the conversation went something like this.

“I write horror.”

I am sure my face contorted in some offensive fashion. “I never read horror.”

“What do you write?” I’m sure her lips were in a firm thin line.

“I write Christian fiction.”

“Anyone with a crayon can write that.”

Yes she really did say that. And yes my hackles were up.

I assume we managed to have a civil conversation. I vaguely remember she explained to me how she reprogrammed the number pad on her computer for Gaelic accent marks.

I don’t recall her name. Perhaps she was an award winning writer and sold millions of copies. In retrospect it should never have been about who wrote the more noble subject matter. It wasn’t about who was the better writer; it was about preference. Not only what we preferred to write but where our passion was. Our passions were polar opposites.

Passion seasoned with grace

There are readers from all walks of life who enjoy our passion driven words. As writers we do no one any good by threatening to hit another author with a shin bone. We need to exercise grace in regard to our differences. Horror is still not my genre of choice. But I have learned from Stephen King about writing. Having reviewed a few horror books, I have grown to appreciate their value. Ted Dekker never ceases to get his readers to think on a deeper level. The experience has broadened my reading choices to include intriguing stories in science fiction and fantasy.

jane-austen--399--t-600x600-rw

I am not sure what exactly Mark Twain didn’t like about Jane Austin’s writing style, and his remarks obviously didn’t stop readers from purchasing her books. (FYI: They were not contemporaries. Twain was born twenty years after Austin died. ) Had they been contemporaries his remarks might have put a wedge between them.

Thinking about his words I realized I missed a great opportunity. If I had been less offended by the horror writer’s genre, perhaps that writer and I would have developed a lifelong friendship. Perhaps I might even have learned something about the craft of writing from her. Or she might have discovered writers of Christian fiction who don’t use crayons and opened her own horizons to new possibilities.

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