Saturday, October 9, 2010

On Writing: Your Ideal Reader

First of all I have to apologize for missing last week. Our internet went down Friday night and we couldn't get a repairman until Monday morning. Not having internet access didn't bother me as much as I thought it would, that is until Sunday afternoon. By then I'd had enough of being unplugged from the world. But I did read two books last weekend, plus we watched a few episodes of Firefly so that was good.

In Stephen King's On Writing he talks about having what he calls your Ideal Reader. He's not talking about a critique partner here, though that's certainly something a writer needs. A critique partner can help you break down your story and find the problem areas, whether it's grammar or characterization or a million other things. Having a critique partner is invaluable and when you have the right one, you can help each other and learn a great deal from each other. It can enrich both your writing itself and your life as a writer.

An Ideal Reader is something different. King is talking about the person who will read your work strictly as a reader, for the journey and the pleasure of the story. He mentions watching his wife read his work, eager for her reactions. I've done exactly that with my husband and it always makes me feel like I'm going to twist myself in half. On the one hand I want to watch over his shoulder and see if he laughs at what is supposed to be funny, does he cringe at what's supposed to be cringe-worthy, does he cringe at a paragraph I thought was really good. But on the other hand I can hardly stand to see his reaction. Usually I'm so nervous I have to be in another room while he reads something I wrote. He's always sure to tell me what I need to know the most: I like it, I don't like it (that's only happened once), and the response I find most nerve-wracking - what happens next? That's always exciting to hear, because it means he wants to know what happens next, but it can also be stressful because sometimes I don't know what happens next and it may be awhile before there's more for him to read. This is why I've gotten to where I finish a story before letting him read it.

While your ideal reader doesn't have to be your significant other, it should definitely be a person who enjoys reading whatever genre you write in. I'm lucky in that my husband enjoys urban fantasy and isn't phased when a vampire turns up in a story. If he hated paranormal, though, I'd have to find a different ideal reader. After all, we write for an audience that will enjoy our books, so our ideal reader should, too.

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