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  1. deadrats

    deadrats Contributor Contributor

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    Do you really think about the reader?

    Discussion in 'The Art of Critique' started by deadrats, Dec 2, 2017.

    During the writing or editing stage do you really think about the reader? I never think about the reader. There are just so many other things going on in my head while writing/editing that the fact that people could some day read this just doesn't factor in. Should it? Are we supposed to think about the reader? Or is it enough to just really focus on the story?
     
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  2. jannert

    jannert Who? Whooo? Staff Supporter Contributor

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    Well, I did think about 'a' reader because it helped me to focus. Not on, 'Oh, dear, will the reader like this? Am I making myself clear?' Instead I pretended to be telling the story to somebody I know well. (My sister.)

    It worked a treat and gave me a voice I probably wouldn't have had otherwise.
     
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  3. EdFromNY

    EdFromNY Hope to improve with age Supporter Contributor

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    Yes, I do. Perhaps not constantly, especially while writing the first draft, when, more than anything, I'm telling myself the story. But I'm always aware of things like maintaining tension, and especially not allowing tension to be dissipated too easily, a bad habit of mine. I don't think of things like, where to start the next subplot or what a great twist I have in mind. Subplots come as they occur to me (and, now that I'm using Scrivener, I find it's easier to move chapters around when needed), and when I write a twist, I usually only recognize it as such after it's written (occasionally, I'll write something, then say to myself, "Wait, if I do it this way, that would make a cool twist"). Once the first draft is complete, my thinking becomes a lot more tactical, and that's when the reader takes a prominent place in my thinking. Is the tension constant (better, increasing) throughout? Is there any word or phrase repetition? Am I relying too much on physical cues to portray emotional reactions? Too little or too much description? And, in writing police procedurals, have I made clear what certain terms mean or practices are?

    But that's just me.
     
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  4. LostThePlot

    LostThePlot Naysmith Contributor

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    That's an interesting question.

    Yes, I do think about the reader. But not while I'm writing. When I'm writing whatever comes out comes out. As you suggest, there's plenty enough going on when you're writing already just trying to keep the story straight and be compelling and emotionally effecting and all the stuff that makes writing good.

    But I do still think about the reader when I'm working on a book. Not when I'm writing. But when I'm batting around an idea I definitely do think about the reader and how they will feel about what is going on. In fact I've taken significant pains to shape my ideas closer to what the audience wants rather than what I want.

    So I think about them in that sense, to sketch out the plot of the book and how it's going to run, what are going to be the big emotional moments and the book and how they stick together. Because previously when I was just pleasing myself I kinda... Well, I pleased myself. I wrote books that were just for me, that played up to my specific tastes. And that left me with books that I felt were awesome (and I do still feel they are) but that I know that other people are going to look askance at.

    What got me into thinking more about the reader was confronting the realities of trying to sell a book. It starts out very easy to think that your artistic integrity is all that's important; that you are just going to write what you want to write and everyone else can just fuck off if they don't like it. But that changes as you move forward. Today when I think about the audience and playing to what they want it doesn't even feel like a compromise, it feels like it's making me a better writer to write books that more people want to read.

    As I say; when I started writing I didn't even know what genre I was in, let alone what audience I was writing for. I was writing, at the time, just because I always loved writing and finally I had sat down and done it and just having a book finished made me feel great. But as I wrote more and got better I started to get a feel for exactly what kind of characters I was writing. They weren't teenagers, but they have a lot of teenageness in them; the themes I played with were very much in that direction. Angsty, lonely characters who were still trying to find themselves. So when I went into my next book I decided to just write a teenager as the MC, because I thought my work would mean something to teenagers so I chose someone who I thought they would connect with better.

    And then from there I was just slowly tweaking my thinking to do more of that. There isn't really a male audience for teen romance, so probably girls were better to write than boys as the lead characters. And then while teens like dark and edgy my kind of harrowing emotional whiplash and downer endings was probably a bit much. People like happy endings to their romance books. So I moved in to doing that.

    I've never sat down and thought "Well the audience like that, so lets give the MC one of those too..." and I've never even really researched or thought about it all that hard. It's just learning from experience, seeing what others think about my book and, frankly, doing some quite painful soul searching to figure out that what I like isn't just better than middle of the road fiction. It's different. And they don't like it because it's fucking crazy. I have refined sensibilities when it comes to pain but most people don't.

    And as I've been writing my last couple of projects I've found that actually I haven't had that much of a problem with it. There's still loads of me in my books, really dark and painful and tearjerking, it's definitely not just middle of the road hack writing. But it's still within the bounds of what other people want to read. In the end I figured out that I need to think about what's black and scary for them not for me. Because in the end, they are the ones who have to read it. I don't intend my writing to be just something to please myself, I do have things I want to say in my books and that necessitates making them things other people want to look at as well.

    So; yes, I do think about the audience. But only when outside writing. I use the audience to set the boundaries of what I do when I'm writing. And if I step over that when writing, that's ok because I can edit it.
     
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  5. Laurin Kelly

    Laurin Kelly Contributor Contributor

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    Absolutely! Because I write in a specific genre that I also read almost exclusively, I know what the target audience for those books are looking for and am absolutely geared towards writing things I think they'll enjoy. After all, they're the same things I like, and I always try to write stories I want to read myself. There's been plenty of times when writing certain scenes that I'll just smile and think, "Ooooh, they're gonna love this part!"
     
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  6. surrealscenes

    surrealscenes Senior Member

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    Just about with every word.
    If you want a wide audience I feel it is essential. Knowing people and how they think can help us craft something that makes sense to most.
    I come from a invention/prototype/manufacturing world, and in those, the end user is the biggest thought. Anything created for consumption of others needs to think about them during creation.

    Besides all that, I love to write for kids. If you don't think like a kid, it usually shows.

    I am someone who will throw down a book at the first or second page if things don't make sense. Things generally don't make sense when the audience is not thought about.
     
  7. jannert

    jannert Who? Whooo? Staff Supporter Contributor

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    Oh, yeah. I definitely think about 'the reader' when I'm editing. But I don't worry about the reader when I'm writing. It's one of the things I promised myself before I even started writing for the first time. I would write honestly. I would not censor myself. I'd just tell the story the way I wanted to. It just helped me to have a 'real person' as an audience. A pair of ears, so to speak.
     
  8. LostThePlot

    LostThePlot Naysmith Contributor

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    Honestly I think if you are doing it right then this happens whether or not you are part of your target audience or not.

    I am not a teenage girl, nor do I read teen romance but that's what I write and everyone who's read my work says I write it well and have a good sense for the big emotional moments. I love to write a first kiss, I love to write my girls getting swept off their feet, and I love to write the hard, tearstained emotional scenes too.

    As long as you are writing well and writing things that emotionally connect with you then the genre and the audience are almost window dressing. A big emotional scene in a sci fi book still needs to speak to something human and something universal, just the same as it would have to in a fantasy book, or in a period drama or even in a teenage romance. Exactly what the emotional thing is might change, but it still touches the spark of universal humanity.

    Even as an outsider to the genre you can tell well written fiction, you know?
     
  9. Laurin Kelly

    Laurin Kelly Contributor Contributor

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    Totally agree - I come from a software/manufacturing background as well and I'm wired the same way.
     
  10. LostThePlot

    LostThePlot Naysmith Contributor

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    Yes, I agree with this. The 'real person' audience I think about is my now former girlfriend and her friends when I first met them, when they were 15/16/17. I think about how they would react to me telling them my stories and I aim to make them squee and cry and tug at their heartstrings. And, notably, I look to them to tell me where I'm going too far. Because even though those girls were weird, alternative types who read weird sex mangas and Anne Rice books; even back then I could always push them too far and fairly easily.

    Those girls are my defense to any claims that you can't write challenging adult themes in teen books; because I know that's the stuff they loved. And that's liberating. Because they aren't just some bland focus group. I know that I can work with whatever material I want, with sex and drugs and self harm and suicide and rape and whatever else. I can tell those stories, I just have to tell them the right way.

    And maybe that's the most important thing about thinking about your audience. The audience will tell you the right way to tell your story. It's still your story, you can still do whatever you want, you just have to find the right way so that your audience wants to read and connect with it.
     
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  11. LostThePlot

    LostThePlot Naysmith Contributor

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    *nods* Anyone can fiddle around in their shed making the perfect automatic can opener that they want to use every day. But if they try and sell that to other people they aren't going to get very far because what the little inventor in his shed needs for his every day life is unique to him.

    If you want to make something other people want to buy you to think about what they want. Because it's very very seldom that what you want is the same as what everyone else wants.
     
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  12. Skibbs

    Skibbs Member

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    It depends on what I'm writing. Mostly, I'd have to say no, but when I write I feel more like the reader than the author, because I don't follow a plan. A lot of my writing comes to my randomly, and I follow every twist and turn as if I was the reader. However, sometimes I do, when I try to write deliberately to create a specific effect - I have to try to place myself in a reader's mind so I can see whether what I've written gives me the intended impression.
     
  13. crappycabbage

    crappycabbage Member

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    Judging by the big difference between my "hobby"-writing I did for many years and the recent "trying to get published"-writing, I definitely should think about the reader. If I was just writing a story for myself I'd only be interested in the writing, that's the fun bit for me, and I would skip most of the many hours spent revising and editing to make it clear and entertaining. That stuff is hard work and I'm lazy. :)
     
  14. izzybot

    izzybot Transhuman Autophage Contributor

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    I don't really think of a reader, I think of what's going to make the story the best version of itself - some part of my brain is probably processing that in terms of "people wouldn't enjoy that" or "this would need to be explained to someone outside my head", but I'm not actively thinking of the reader.

    For me the ultimate point of stories is to tell them to someone else, so I do want a hypothetical reader to like what I've written. I just don't make actual decisions while thinking, "Oh, The Reader wouldn't like that, I'll do something else."
     
  15. LostThePlot

    LostThePlot Naysmith Contributor

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    Yeah I second that. I do have some stuff that I write basically just for fun and for my own consumption and it's way different. Because when I write I am very good at playing up to what I like. I like long scenes, I like lots of words. And to me my writing reads back great like that. But my polished 'for other people' writing is not like that. It starts out like that, but it doesn't end like that. It can't just be raw writing, it needs to be processed into a form fit for human consumption.
     
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  16. LostThePlot

    LostThePlot Naysmith Contributor

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    I guess it depends how cynical you are as to if this totally encompasses audience taste or not. Because I think most people who work in publishing see 'the best version' to be the version that the most people are going to buy.
     
  17. OJB

    OJB A Mean Old Man Contributor

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    I'm in the same boat as Laurin. I have a specific audience in mind when writing. Though most of my crafting and fine tuning comes from revisions. I often tone down some of my more extreme ideas in an attempt to make them more appealing.
     
  18. crappycabbage

    crappycabbage Member

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    O, I feel this. I definitely go crazy with the dialogue in my fun-writing, and I skimp on description because the images are already there in my head. Yeah, it's very different for me too. Not very different in plot and character really, but like you say, in the final polished, processed product. :)
     
  19. LostThePlot

    LostThePlot Naysmith Contributor

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    *nods* I've written scenes that are just dialogue that were 12k words long. Just around and around in circles because it was about something that was interesting to me and I just kept going and going because it was engaging to write for me. And that feels good to me; it always feels good to get hyperfocused on a scene and just throw everything into it.

    But for other people? Yeah not so much. And I still do this kind of stuff, even in my serious writing. When I'm writing I'm just writing and delving deep into what's happening in this scene, knowing that I'm going to have to come back and cut it for the sake of the audience.
     
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  20. surrealscenes

    surrealscenes Senior Member

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    I would like to touch upon the reality of process vs what we think or want.
    We often see or read interviews with authors that state "I write for myself. If you don't, you won't get anywhere". That is completely false.

    It is the stock answer that gives their audience hope that there is a spot for them in publishing as well.

    Let's look at a big name that has said this - Stephen King.
    For some not great reasons he wanted to be a writer. He wrote for himself and thought 'if I like this, others will too'. Then came submission time. He was rejected over and over. The rejection caused him to read more of what he was writing and alter it to fit more with what was accepted and published. (The beginning of writing for an audience.) Then magazine publishers reached out and gave him tips to be accepted for their magazines. (More writing for the audience.) Then he went into novels, and more rejections followed. In comes the agent/editor. They get paid by their people selling books. Books that are not written with the audience in mind generally don't sell. So, one of the big jobs for an agent/editor (at least back then) was to take someone with drive and some talent.......and teach them how to write for an audience instead of themselves.

    This is the reality of it. A lot of successful writers don't know, or remember, these things happening and really do believe they are writing for themselves.

    Ultimately, write because you want to write, but realize that if you want to sell down the road, you need to write for an audience. The sooner you do that, the easier the rest of the road will become. Selling = catering.
     
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  21. LostThePlot

    LostThePlot Naysmith Contributor

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    But it is possible to both write for yourself and write for an audience at the same time. That's the critical thing.

    Way too many people think that it's either one or the other; that it's so black and white. That you can either have that ever wonderful artistic integrity and create merely for the sake of creation, or you can be a sell out and write things that other people like but which aren't creatively fulfilling. You see this exact attitude in all creative areas. We see it in music and we see it in fine art and in all kinds of things, but it's simply not true. You can make something for you that other people still like.

    There are a lot of things that make up a book. You can still write your book with your unique streak of style; doesn't matter if it's set in a high school or in the galactic senate because that's just trappings. You can make your kind of characters and tell your kind of story. And if you're doing that then what do you care if you have to pick characters that other people want to read about to do it? You're still writing for you, writing the things that you find creatively fulfilling. And you're presenting to other people in a way that they like. And how is that not a win-win? Suddenly your complex political space opera is being read by millions because you transplanted all that backstabbing into a high school and that was enough to make people want to give your work a try.

    That's really all that it is to consider the audience. It's to get your foot in the door, show them something that they connect with immediately, something that makes them look past the cover. It's still your book. But it's also their book too. You take the things that they want to see and then you make them dance to your tune.

    We have to be careful about how we think. Because as writers we are also readers and consumers and fans of the things we like. In the things that we are fans of we like that some of them are kinda an exclusive club, we like that only we really get this. We like when our favorite writers (and artists and musicians) make things that we get, and we rankle to see them water something down so that the uninitiated can love it too. But we can't think like that when it comes to our own work. Because we (or most of us anyway) are still trying to get our writing in front of anyone. We're still trying to get our foot in the door.

    The time to be precious about expressing yourself is after you made your millions. Once you've proved that people love your work, once your name is enough to sell fifty thousand copies, then you can indulge yourself. But at the start why not meet them half way? Why not write them something they want to read? Or indeed, why not do what I do, and giggle at the idea that my writing is (with any luck) going to end up in the bedrooms and school bags of thousands of teenage girls; a prospect that I can't help but laugh at because no-one (least of all me) would have seen that coming. But that's fine. Because I'm still writing things I want to write, doing weird, dark, complicated things. I'm still causing floods of tears and rending hearts. And who gives a crap if I have to set that in a high school?

    I care if people read my work; I don't care if I have to put my work in a tutu to do it. It's still my work.
     
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  22. Iain Sparrow

    Iain Sparrow Banned Contributor

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    You are right on every account!

    What is a writer of fiction? You're a storyteller, an entertainer in a pure sense of the word.
     
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  23. LostThePlot

    LostThePlot Naysmith Contributor

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    Yes, quite.

    An entertainer who only entertains himself isn't a good entertainer. What would you call a comedian who is the only person who laughs at his jokes? Oh but his jokes are edgy and unique and weird and god you people just don't appreciate his genius? And we can argue about who is the best comedian; the guy who has a cult following and is a genius, or the guy who can pack a stadium with his safe and easy jokes. But both of them are actually comedians; they actually make other people laugh. And that's a step forward from making no-one laugh.

    A writer who no-one reads isn't achieving what a writer is supposed to. And it's really not good enough to just say that one day people will appreciate your genius because, well, they probably won't if you don't give them something more than genius to appreciate. Geniuses are typically only appreciated after they are dead, when someone finally actually reads what they have to say. And that's fine. Because geniuses probably don't care that much if they are read. But geniuses mostly die pennyless and unloved.

    To say you are making your writing more commercially available is, in a fundamental way, to say you are making your writing better because it means you're making your writing into something that other people want to share.
     
    Last edited: Dec 2, 2017
  24. BayView

    BayView Huh. Interesting. Contributor

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    I write with my audience in mind, absolutely, but sometimes I do things I know they won't like, just because that's what I want.

    (Fade-to-black sex scenes spring to mind. I know most of my readers want details, and I've certainly written them in the past and will likely write them in the future. But sometimes I just don't have anything new to say in a given sex scene, so... fade to black. Sorry, readers!)
     
  25. OJB

    OJB A Mean Old Man Contributor

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    It's writers like you that make me throw books against walls.
     
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