Saturday, April 25, 2009

Think like a reader

Last week I posted on the attention deficit disorder of so many modern readers, myself no less than anyone. I like to read. Yes, I do. I like to be swept away. But....

But, but, but. I'm busy, and every day there are demands placed on me from all sides, and every day there are a thousand things I should be doing besides reading. So it's gotta be story, I said - all story, and nothin' but.

I've been thinking more about this attention problem, and I've discovered this obvious fact: I will be a more successful writer when I condition myself to think more like an impatient reader while actually engaged in writing.

I dislike reading long sentences and tedious paragraphs. Therefore, I must remember not to write that way.

I prefer to read books with lots of "white space" and chapters of ten pages or less. So, I should write that way as well.

What else do I like to find in books? And more importantly with respect to my own writing, will I remember to include these kinds of things in my stories?

I like heroes and justice and happy endings. I like an element of mystery and a satisfying conclusion. I like language and style, too, but not when I feel the writer is showing off, and never in the absence of a good story.

And... what do I hate to find in books? I hate, hate, hate when the bad guys win. I have no patience for desciptions of machines and how they work. I despise writers who use their characters as mouthpieces for their political views. I dislike loose ends. I really dislike arrogant protagonists.

So when writing, I need to be mindful of the things I'm prone to include, but that might turn readers off.

I admit that it's not my habit to write like I read. But without a doubt, my writing will be better if I do, and I suspect this is true for other writers, as well. Think of the question like this: would you want to read your own book? If your answer is anything but an enthusiastic YES, then you need to think more like a reader.


  1. I am totally with you Diane. I too am an impatient reader. I have to force myself to read what some people might call "classic" works because they suffer from some of the things that you mentioned in your post. I do it because from time to time I learn something. But sometimes I don't, and it's then that I feel that I have wasted my time.

    Give me a current mystery, techno thriller, or nonfiction book about some technical subject, and I'm a happy guy.

    Taking your advice, I write what I like to read. So unfortunately you won't find much flowery language in my writing. You won't find pages of detail about a character gushing with emotion from a new relationship with his dog. But what you will find is a complex plot interspersed with tons of action and I hope, interesting characters.

    Nice post.

  2. Amen, sister!

    I read somewhere the other day, "Try no to write the parts that readers skip."

    I made me realize I do a lot of skipping in my own reading, but somehow I still absorb the connective tissue that keeps the scene tight.

    I need to make sure my storytelling tendons and ligaments are all in place, while concentrating the flesh in the juicy parts.

  3. Perfect post! This is exactly what we should be doing!

  4. Wow, well said. I certainly want to read my own work. That's why I write it. To read it when nothing else floats my boat. I can be picky. I make sure to put all the elements in that are just right for me as a reader. I also try to think of what other readers want, as well.

    Great post!

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  6. I liked this post quite a bit. Your passion came through and I couldn't help but think that if you write a book that appeals to the likes that you explained you would have a book that fits the likes of people with the same taste as you, and I am sure they are many.

    Readers, in my opionion, are like buyers of ice cream. They have their favorite flavors and some like flavors that others hate. We all know this. I just bring it up because I think it is easy to say that readers have short attention spans. In fact, at times, I do. I just flew on a plan, and my attention span was quite short. The magazine articles that I read in The Writer were perfect, for my attention span at that time.

    However, there are times (not many now) when I have all the time in the world and I just want to get lost in an entirely different place and time.

    The best example of this is a sailing trip where it rained hard for days. I dropped the hook (anchor) and all I did was read. I did not care so much about the length of paragraphs or chapters, or the book. And I am a person that likes action.

    Inside the cabin, with the rain pouring down, I read and I read and I read, and I made it through The Hobbit and all the books in The Lord of the Rings. Some of it was slow, some of it was painful to read, but in the end it all came together in a way that has moved me and many, but not all readers.

    I love Stephen King's idea of writing for your ideal reader, which he describes in On Writing. Your idea brings his to mind, although yours is more focused on yourself as the ideal reader for your own book.

    You are on to something very important as a writer and I love how strongly you feel about it.

    I would love to know what some of your favorite novels are. Do they all follow the patterns you laid out or are some different for different moods?

    Thanks for the great post!!! And, by the way, LOTR is not my favorite book, although it has been one that has had a big influence on me. In part, because of the movie version I saw as a kid.

  7. Great Post! I hate detailed descriptions of rooms - every piece of furniture, knick/knack, clutter, blah, blah, blah. Give me the basics, I can fill in the rest. : )

    I normally try to write like I want to read. I don't think I always succeed. : )


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