1. cutecat22
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    cutecat22 The Strange One Contributor

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    The reader ...

    Discussion in 'General Writing' started by cutecat22, Sep 17, 2015.

    Food for thought.

    There have been, and will continue to be, numerous discussions/arguments about topics such as using italics for thoughts/flashbacks/telepathic conversations, the oxford comma, the semi-colon and when not to use it, the capitalization of Mom/mom and Dad/dad, how effective are ellipses', should we use en-dashes or em-dashes. When do we start a new chapter ... and that ever challenging question, what constitutes good writing? until the end of time.

    BUT, for all the time we spend here discussing the above (and more), has anyone ever given a thought to what the readers themselves actually want?

    And I'm not talking about us lot, published, SP'd or hobby authors. I'm talking about readers. From the readers who dip in and out of a book maybe once a month to the one's who would devour any novel in a week. The ones who have nothing to do with authors and who - to a certain extent - don't even have an inkling what it's like to sweat and cry over a laptop/pen/typewriter and pour out your soul.

    So, has anyone ever asked if the odd dangling participle bothers the general reader? Have they ever been stumped by an author's decision to use italics? Does an abundance of prose put them off the story? Can too much dialogue confuse them or do they actually 'get it', 'it', being whatever it is we are trying to get across.

    Do they research diligently every little thing we write to try and catch us out on the controls of a helicopter? Do they look up facts and figures based on the probability of a shoot-out between our bad characters, armed with machine guns versus three good police officers armed with Walther PPK's? Do they even question whether or not our police officers should have Walther PPK'S?

    Maybe, from time to time, we should go find a pure reader, a reader who has no knowledge of what it's like to be an author, and ask them.

    I know some of you will think this is just an excuse for authors who "write badly", but my guess, is that if you did talk to a pure reader, you would be totally surprised by their answers!
     
  2. Tenderiser
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    Tenderiser Not a man Contest Administrator Supporter Contributor

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    I've been a "pure reader" for most of my life and yes, I notice the kinds of things you pointed out. Incorrect grammar or unusual style choices pull me out of the story. Purple prose or stiff dialogue makes me put a book down and look for something else. Plot holes, unrealistic coincidences or characters with unconvincing motivations annoy me and don't make for a good story. If you're writing about a subject I know and you get the details wrong, I'm reminded right away that this is fiction from an author who couldn't be bothered to do proper research. How can I be absorbed in the story when those thoughts keep jarring me?

    In most of the discussions on here I see people thinking from the perspective of the reader. When do we start a new chapter? Someone will come along and say "end a chapter at a point where the reader has to know more" or "start a chapter when you change time or setting, so the reader knows there's been a jump." Should we use Oxford commas? Multiple people in that thread says "yes, where it makes the sentence clearer for the reader."

    Honestly, I think you're preaching to the converted. I don't see a lot of discussions here labouring over academic points that nobody but over-analytic authors will ever consider.
     
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  3. daemon
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    daemon Contributing Member Contributor

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    a.k.a. "beta readers"
     
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  4. Inks
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    Inks Contributing Member

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    Authors and people with writing experience can comment on such things because they are better readers and have the skills and terminology to highlight problems. Those without that experience will often just read the text will find typographical and logic errors, but "pure readers" lack depth in their insights.

    For example: I gave an except to my friend, who only reads, and I warned him that it was a bit "dark" for a scene and asked for an assessment of the writing. As he read it he just became exasperated and started to berate me for how horrific the depiction of said scene instead of saying anything about the dialogue or pointing out any flaws related to the writing. He told me that I should burn it to send it back to where it belongs. It had a few errors in structure, a few typos and some inconsistencies in setting description that was only caught by someone with actual English experience... they liked the content too.
     
  5. Steerpike
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    Steerpike Felis amatus Supporter Contributor

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    The extent to which readers care about these issues is probably inversely proportional to how good your story is and how good of a story teller you are. I think we've all seen very successful works with less than stellar writing, many of which succeed because the author has done such a good job of drawing in the reader that they don't notice or don't care about some of this minutiae.

    In other cases, the types of issues we discuss here could give the reader the sense that a book isn't good, or leave them unsatisfied, even if they can't put their finger on what didn't work for them. This is particularly true, I suspect with errors in grammar, clumsy writing, and the like.

    Issues like italics for thoughts, and other issues that are purely stylistics, I suspect most readers don't give a damn about if you're written a good book for them to read.
     
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  6. peachalulu
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    peachalulu Contributing Member Reviewer Contributor

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    I don't know many pure readers. Most of the people I've know(n) read a lot of non-fiction or graphic novels, or nothing at all. My mother is probably the purest reader I know but she generally only reads one genre - historical romances in the vein of Janette Oke or Belva Plain. Though she has branched out a bit - she read Joy Fielding at my recommendation and liked the excitement and pace. Didn't like Nora Roberts thought her stories were oversexed and rather cold. Her favorite genre is Irish historical novels but she usually has to write down the characters names and their relationships to each other on a sheet of paper and use it as a bookmark for reference. I asked if it ever bothered her the huge cast and she said somewhat but the stories were so good she endured. Her main gripe was boredom - she couldn't get through John Banville, too wordy and intellectual and barely a plot. Though she had to admit passages were beautifully written.

    Myself as a reader - nothing bothers me too much. I chuckle at typos, mistakes, etc. ( if we're talking published books - self published, free or stories on writing sites is a whole 'nother story) Nothing can make me froth except the story. Technical mistakes for me are not as bad as a hiccup on a dvd. I'm usually so into the story I'll absorb it like a bump in the road. But if the story is a little meh, then the bumps are more noticed.

    Things I don't like - over explaining, over describing ( especially if it's not particularly beautiful ), stupid females, plot holes, situations that can be fixed easily ( yet are never considered ), everything contained in long spats of dialogue ( always guilty of this in draft 1 ), repeating scenes.

    Mainly I want to like the story so I give it the benefit of the doubt. I'm like my mother - boredom is going to make me put down the book faster than anything.
     
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  7. cutecat22
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    cutecat22 The Strange One Contributor

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    No.. Not beta readers at all.

    Just, readers ... There's a massive difference.
     
  8. cutecat22
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    cutecat22 The Strange One Contributor

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    How can you ask for an assessment of the writing if you gave the scene to a pure reader who has no idea how to write?

    He wasn't looking for flaws in the writing, he went straight into the story and didn't like what he was reading.
     
  9. cutecat22
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    cutecat22 The Strange One Contributor

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    I agree - although not every pure reader will pick up on some grammatical and spelling errors simply because, if they are not aware of how a comma works, they will not know whether the author has used it incorrectly or not. The same goes for words like that/which, that/who, neither/either and a bunch more I can't think of right now.
     
  10. Steerpike
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    Steerpike Felis amatus Supporter Contributor

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    That/which mistakes always stand out to me. As for commas, I'm in the camp of fiction authors being able to do whatever they want with them to get the sentence to flow the way they like.
     
  11. cutecat22
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    cutecat22 The Strange One Contributor

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    I'm in the same camp - my editor is not and we have this argument a lot, (I always win, I put commas where I want them) but her argument is "I don't need to be told when to breath!"

    (I love commas!)
     
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  12. daemon
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    daemon Contributing Member Contributor

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    Then I am not sure what you are getting at, other than the common and uncontroversial practice of asking non-authors to read our work and tell us their general impression, which is what I referred to as "beta readers".
     
  13. cutecat22
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    cutecat22 The Strange One Contributor

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    I'm not saying that at all.

    I'm not saying give your MS to a pure reader.

    I'm saying, if you read the op again ...

    So, has anyone ever asked if the odd dangling participle bothers the general reader? Have they ever been stumped by an author's decision to use italics? Does an abundance of prose put them off the story? Can too much dialogue confuse them or do they actually 'get it', 'it', being whatever it is we are trying to get across.

    Nothing was mentioned about giving your work to a pure reader or asking them to comment on one person's MS.

    More a case of find a pure reader and ask them when a comma should be used, what the purpose of prose is, do they like dialogue tags, explain an adverb ... or do you read to enjoy the story and escape life, just for a little while.

    Because, as authors, our brains don't enjoy the pleasure of reading anymore. When we read, we are constantly nit-picking and looking too deeply into what we've written to simply see the fantastic stories and worlds we have created.
     
  14. Inks
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    Inks Contributing Member

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    I do not see how a "pure reader" even knows was a dangling participle even is without a prior explanation. I value the input of a person based on their ability to make new observations that are grounded in logic more so than personal preference. As all writing is either prose or verse, I wonder why they would read a novel if they dislike an abundance of prose in the first place.
     
  15. daemon
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    daemon Contributing Member Contributor

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    @cutecat22

    Okay, I think I know what you are saying, but I am still unsure why. What value is there in this:

    Author: "Does the odd dangling participle bother you?"
    Non-author: "What's that?"

    vs.

    Author's manuscript: "... Plunging hundreds of feet into the gorge, we saw Yosemite Falls. ..."
    Non-author's comment: "Wait, were they jumping off a cliff? Were they skydiving?"
    Author: "No, Yosemite Falls was plunging into the gorge, not the characters."
    Non-author: "Oh, well why didn't you say so?"
     
  16. cutecat22
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    cutecat22 The Strange One Contributor

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    That's the whole point.

    No one actually knows what pure readers think, unless you ask them. And you can't ask every one of them.

    The point is ... There are no hard and fast rules where writing is concerned. The oxford comma is hated by as many people as it is loved by. The 'rules' for a semi-colon where dreamed up by one man who was writing a grammar book and italics, they can be used whenever and wherever you want. So why do we spend so much time and effort debating, arguing and putting the case forward for why we are correct about each one of these issues when, to the pure reader, it doesn't actually matter??

    The pure reader won't read a passage and think, 'Oh good heavens, why did she put a semi-colon there? is she thick? Does she not realize it needs a full stop and then start a new sentence?"

    The reader will be more concerned with the fact that the MC has just shagged his way through the village/slayed the monster/won the hearts of the public/had an accident in his pants/whatever we've had him do ...

    To hell with the rules. Find out who your readers are and give them what they want! :-D

    And your excerpt makes no sense - the reader will know, from the sentences before and after, and basic common sense, whether or not you are talking about skydivers or water.

    Just like the following:

    I was joined by Carrie, my parents, John and Jeff.

    and

    I was joined by Carrie, my parents, John, and Jeff.

    Will be read the same by a pure reader. In context, the pure reader will not read the first sentence and think, 'OMG, the parents are a gay couple called John and Jeff!' They will just read that the character speaking was joined by Carrie, Mum, Dad, John and Jeff.

    Common sense.
     
  17. Aaron DC
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    Aaron DC Contributing Member

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  18. daemon
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    daemon Contributing Member Contributor

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    I gave an example (that I did not even come up with) that was contrived to illustrate a point. Replace it with a different example if you wish, or add your own context, so that the meaning is not immediately obvious from the context. The point is that if you frame it like this:

    "Don't use dangling participles. That's a rule."

    then of course it will seem like an arbitrary rule that readers would not care about. But if you frame it like this:

    "If you want to tell the reader that an object is engaged in some kind of action, then one way to do it is to take a participle that represents the action and place it in a position in the sentence that indicates that it modifies the noun representing the object."

    then even though it is a mouthful, it makes it clear why a dangling participle can cause problems: placing the participle in a position in the sentence that does not indicate which noun it modifies defeats the purpose of placing it in the sentence.

    The fact is that the "average reader" uses a system of rules to interpret symbols on a page without even consciously knowing what those rules are. What you have presented is not a way to improve our writing, but a thought experiment to prove your point that stylistic and linguistic rules only matter if they matter to readers. But your thought experiment does not work because asking your average Joe whether or not a rule matters is no indication of whether or not it actually does matter to him.

    Which goes back to my point about beta readers: the scientific way to determine if a rule "matters" to readers is to present writing to them that breaks the rule and to see if it causes problems for them when they read it. Even if they cannot explain why.

    I agree with the main point of your argument -- that the sole measure of the success of a piece of writing is the reader's reaction to it -- I am just pointing out that it does not make sense to ask the audience for their opinion of a mechanism of something that operates behind the scenes. Ask them for their opinion of what they see right in front of them.
     
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  19. Cave Troll
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    Cave Troll Bite the bullet, do your own thing. Contributor

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    @cutecat22 I think you should write it the way you feel most comfortable. It gives you a unique style with whatever mechanisms you use. As long as it is interesting to your audience, they will forgive some of the minor issues they have with it. Often in the e-books on my kindle, I find spelling errors and grammar mistakes (and this includes pieces written by published authors, and not just the ' I wrote this on a whim and published it' types). So as long as you capture your reader, it doesn't really matter your MO seeing as you have done your job. :D
     
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  20. ChickenFreak
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    ChickenFreak Contributing Member Contributor

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    It's only in the past two to five years that I find myself opinionating about writing from a writer's point of view. The vast majority of my opinions are from a reader's point of view.

    Your assumption that a reader doesn't care is, IMO, an invalid assumption. I always cared about correct word choice, grammar, and punctuation. I always cared about style.

    My fondness for Rumer Godden's unique style and use of dialogue started when I started reading her books, at age eleven at the latest. My dislike for the use of present tense in the Babar picture books started at picture book age, around five or six.

    I was intensely aware of the different style and mood of the countless children's books that I read.

    Readers are connoisseurs of what they read. I'm rather offended by what I interpret as an assumption that they're blunt-witted, accepting consumers of whatever language an author chooses to slop onto their divided tin mess tray.
     
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  21. Link the Writer
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    Link the Writer Flipping Out For A Good Story. Contributor

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    I suppose it depends on the pure readers in question. An expert in the medical field might grit their teeth in frustration if your character is stabbed and the first thing they do is jerk the knife out, or is shot and the first thing their friends do is say, "We've got to get the bullets out!" and proceed to shove their unclean, non-sanitized hands and tools deep into the wound and dig like the untrained nitwits they are. A police officer might grumble and curse if your main character doesn't follow protocols and act like the judge, jury, and executioner all wrapped up in one like so many police procedurals seem to do.

    I wouldn't notice it because, y'know, I'm not a medical expert, nor am I a police officer. I would notice, however, if you had a character in a historical piece using something that wouldn't be invented for decades, if not centuries to come. So it really just depends on what said pure reader know about/the experience he/she has been through.

    You also have to consider that the 'pure reader' will want to find the story that will satisfy him/her individually. Some might follow the crowd (zombies, if we're still crazy about that for example), while others will toot their own trumpets and read whatever they deem good by their own standards. Assuming that all 'pure readers' are one and the same is unfair. What I like to read is what I like to read; I don't go with the crowd and read what's hot in the literary market right now.

    Another thing to consider: even those who have no dream of being a writer at all will still likely balk if the basic GSAP is botched up. Just because they don't want to be writers doesn't mean they don't have a basic grasp on the grammar, spelling, and punctuation. An adult man/woman writing like a four-year-old child isn't cute. At all. It's creepy. And kind of sad.

    Basically, don't lump 'em all together. Every 'pure reader' is different, they all have their own tastes, likes/dislikes, personal biases, personal experience, etc. You don't have to be a writer to know this.
     
    Last edited: Sep 18, 2015
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  22. ChickenFreak
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    ChickenFreak Contributing Member Contributor

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    Just as, with a song, all that matters is the lyrics, right? They tell us what happened. Songs would be just as good if they were just read aloud by Siri. No one who doesn't play an instrument themselves cares about music, just as no reader who doesn't write cares about the music of language. Both assertions make equal sense to me.
     
  23. daemon
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    daemon Contributing Member Contributor

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    I am glad you made the music analogy. It helps me clarify what I was getting at earlier.

    Music has rules of melody just like language has rules of syntax, semantics, and style. Consider, for example, a rule to follow chord progression x with note y, not with note z. When you are composing music and you have chord progression x, how do you know whether to follow it with y or to follow it with z? Do you find a casual listener and ask if they care about the "rule" to follow x with y? No. If you really want the casual listener's opinion, then you play the song. The listener hears y as something he can only really describe as something that "sounds nice" and he hears z as something he can only really describe as a "sour note". The rule to follow x with y instead of z clearly matters to him even though he is not even consciously aware of it.

    The OP originally confused me because I thought it was saying, by analogy, that playing a song to a casual listener is more worthwhile than debating about music theory. But what the OP really means is, by analogy, that asking a casual listener about music theory is more worthwhile than asking a music theorist about it. Which is baffling.
     
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  24. cutecat22
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    cutecat22 The Strange One Contributor

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    Slopping into their tin mess tray, no. That's not what I mean. There are enough authors for a reader to find a story written in a style which suits them so I'm not saying they should believe or accept what we give them. Your last sentence makes it seem like I want to write a shopping list for my car and have a reader think it's a bestseller. Not what I was going for!
     
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  25. cutecat22
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    cutecat22 The Strange One Contributor

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    Not necessarily - some songs have lyrics which leave me baffled (I Am The Walrus - by the Beatles) and some genres of music, leave me with a migraine (house/rave). Whereas some lyrics are pure gold, (I'm so far away, each step that I take's on my way home. Bon Jovi) and some music, leaves me breathless. (Classical Piano, composed and performed by James Oldrini).

    So even if you are a music buff and a musician, there will be some form of music that doesn't float your boat.
     

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