Sep 26 2009
One of the most common mental mistakes that plagues writers is the logical fallacy that if they do or prefer something, their target audience does too. Not necessarily! Here are a few ways in which readers tend to differ from authors.
1. Readers are usually less patient than writers. As a result, they tend to get aggravated when the author doesn’t give them enough information. (Rule of thumb: the readers are entitled to anything relevant that the POV knows). Many writers like being cryptic because they think that hiding the POV’s information from the reader will create intrigue. Most readers do not like reading cryptic works.
2. Readers start at page 1 and typically will put down the book as soon as they are dissatisfied. Ahem–they aren’t patient. This means that the quality of the opening few pages is absolutely critical to readers. In contrast, writers often phone in the beginning because they want to get to the “meat” of the story or whatever. THAT IS A MISTAKE. Most readers will not plod along in the hopes that the story will get interesting or clear. They will put down the book unless it is interesting and clear from page one.
3. A novel-reader’s goal is usually entertainment. If your readers want to be entertained but you are focused on some other goal (such as enlightening them or changing their political/moral/religious beliefs), you have a huge problem. If you want to get a mass-market novel published and have a goal besides entertainment in mind, I highly recommend making that goal secondary to entertainment unless you have a great reason to do otherwise. For example, if you’re writing a really literary work aimed at older, philosophically-minded readers, it’s plausible that they’d be receptive to a novel that isn’t focused on entertainment– just keep in mind that such audiences are generally pretty rare.
4. Readers are generally less likely to appreciate a new approach for its own sake. We authors want so badly to be original that we sometimes shoot ourselves in the foot. For example, at least two novels have been written without the letter E. That’s a gimmick that would probably distract readers rather than impress them. In contrast, some unusual approaches are compelling because they open up many fresh story opportunities. For example, writing a story about a supervillain protagonist would probably entice readers because we haven’t read 100 books in that vein. When you try something new, like writing a team of 20 main superheroes or whatever, try evaluating whether it adds enough to the readers’ experience to justify the costs.
5. Authors tend to like overstylized speech more than readers do. One sign that a character’s accent, dialect, speech impediment or voice may be too over-the-top is that the author feels the need to reference, explain or excuse it in-story. (For example, a character might ridicule a particularly obnoxious accent. If you really need to justify your stylistic choices to your readers, rather than let your style justify itself, readers will probably find it difficult or even painful to read through. Be careful.
Hmm, what do you think? Have you ever felt like an author was writing something more for himself than for you?