Wednesday, November 23, 2011

2 Ways to Respect Your Reader

I'm feeling a bit nervous about this post.

One of my goals for Go Teen Writers is to write posts that meet you where you are as a young writer. Respecting my reader was something I had no concept of as a teenage writer, and that was okay. When you first start writing, it's okay to be selfish with it. It's okay to not factor in the reader. You're experimenting, you're developing your voice, you're figuring out what type of stories you want to write. Having that "me" time was critical for my career, and there's nothing wrong with being in that stage of your writing journey.

But if you've decided you're interested in pursuing publication, your readers will appreciate if you do a couple things to show your respect:

1. Trust their intelligence.

This is a snippet from the dandelion story, which I wrote as a teenager. This is what it looks like to not trust your reader's intelligence:

"Stop it Carter, I'm serious.  We need to talk," Paige repeated more forcefully.
Carter ran his hand through his brown hair and collapsed on a swing.
"What's up with you?  You've been acting like this all day," Carter cried, exasperated.
"Stop yelling at me, alright!?" Paige yelled, even though Carter hadn’t been yelling. "I can't deal with you yelling at me on top of everything else!"
"Okay, okay," Carter said soothingly.
My readers are smart people, and they don't need me handing every single emotion to them. I don't need to say that Paige repeated her sentence more forcefully, or that Carter is exasperated, or that Carter is speaking soothingly.

If your dialogue is strong enough (which is debatable in the above scene) not only are those dialogue tags (Carter cried, exasperated) unnecessary, they're annoying. If I tell my reader that Carter ran his hand through his hair and collapsed, then he says something like, "What's up with you?" then I really don't need to further add that he's exasperated.

This goes along with what we talked about with backstory and flashbacks - don't over explain. It's tempting to pause the action to explain what everyone is feeling and thinking, but you want to keep the story moving. A little confusion is okay. Readers want to be intrigued, and that happens when you withhold information.

Of course, that can also be annoying. It's a tough balance, but one that's worth fighting for.

2. Know who they are and what they're looking for in a story.

Having a specific reader in mind can be tremendously helpful. This goes beyond having a target audience, like writing a book for "boys between ages 3 and 8." This is someone who supports you and who likes to read. Your sibling, your best friend.

When you're writing a scene, it's possible this person pops into your mind. You're thinking, "Sally is going to love this part!"

This is also someone you don't want to let down, who encourages you to do your best. And, ideally, they tell you what they like and what they don't like.

A lot of times when I'm writing, I think of my critique partner, Roseanna White, because I know a lot about her reading tastes. Other times I'll have other target readers in my head - would Kelly think I'm being too preachy right here? That reader of mine who loves my character, Skylar, and relates to her ... how would she connect to this new character?

If you're published, there are other things I would suggest, like taking time to respond to readers who email you, praying for your readers, spend time thinking about ways that you can thank them for loyalty (bookmarks, signed books, etc.)

But the above are two things you can do in your pre-published days, two things that will carry you far as a writer!

Tomorrow I'm taking the day off to celebrate Thanksgiving with my family, and Friday the winners from last round's writing prompt will be announced.

That "follower" number is creeping up there! Don't forget to click "follow," and invite your friends to follow as well to increase the number of words you're allowed to submit to next round's free write. Details here.

Have a great day, guys!


  1. Hey Stephanie! First of all, I loved this post, because it's been something I've been struggling with. I either under explain or over explain, so this post really helped my figure out what I need to work on. Thanks!
    On a grammar girl note, it should be "winners," not "winner's," as the second implies that you are talking about something the winner has. Sorry, geeky moment. :D

  2. Thank you, Becki! I value the grammar girls in my life :)

  3. Haha. It helps that I'm from a long line of English teachers.

  4. I had never thought about the first point before, but it makes a load of sense. Something that helped solidify the truth of what you're saying, Stephanie, was reading that paragraph from the dandelion story again, skipping the "non-intelligent" bits. Whoa. What an improvement. :)

    My goodness, but I can totally see how the second point would work. I don't think I would have figured that out on my own. I mean, I would probably have thought that it wasn't helpful to think about one reader and cater to what would make them happy. Know what I mean? Still, having an audience is definitely something that I want someday, so I need to take that into account.

    How did you decide what your target audience was?

  5. Rachelle, well, the stories I wrote were all about teenage girls, so my target audience was pretty easy to figure out. It isn't always that easy, though. A good place to start is figuring out what genre your book is, and who the readers of that genre typically are.

    I thought about going into a thing about, "Of course it can be bad to care too much about what one person thinks, and it shouldn't be something you WORRY about..." but didn't want to over explain myself. Because, yes, catering to one person is not a great idea. Especially if they are the type who "only read romances" or "only read fill-in-the-blank." Or if they are someone completely different from your target audience.

    My husband's grandfather is sweet enough to read all my books. When I found that out, though, it kinda made me cringe. I'd be trying to write a scene and think, "What's Jim going to think of THIS?" I finally just had to put it out of my head.

    So that exercise of having a specific reader in mind can certainly be harmful too! You have to take control :)

  6. ..Oh man... as I was reading your little snippet of respecting your reader's intelligence words started flashing through my mind of things I've written in the past that are worded exactly like that... ouch...x)

  7. Good point, Stephanie. Thanks!

    LOL. Jazmine, me, too! :)