Wednesday, March 16, 2011

Creating a wise reader

I have just finished reading The Writer’s Digest Guide To Science Fiction And Fantasy by Orson Scott Card

This book is, by far, the best book I have read about writing speculative fiction. (As an added bonus, there is a large section titled “The Writer’s Complete Fantasy Reference”. OUTSTANDING!)

One of the sections is titled, Creating a wise reader.

A Wise Reader is not someone to tell you what you have just done. What you want is someone who will report to you, in detail and accurately, on the experience of reading your story. (Think of a play: after it is over, everyone will tell how brilliant you were. But, during the performance no one lies. If people are checking their watch or looking through the Play Bill, something is very wrong.)

You want to train your reader to notice and take notes on symptoms – what the story does to him. For this job, it is better if your Wise Reader is not trained in literature. You don’t want him to tell you how to fix your story, you want to know how it feels to read it.

Ask your reader:

  • Were you bored? Did you find your minder wandering? Can you tell me where in the story this was happening? (Let him take his time, look back through the story, find a place where he remembers loosing interest.)
  • What did you think about the character named _____? Did you like him? Hate him? Keep forgetting who he was? (If he hates your character for the right reason, that’s good news. If he can’t remember who he is from one chapter to the next, that is a problem.)
  • Was there anything you didn’t understand or were confused? Any sections you had to reread?
  • Was there anything you didn’t believe? Any place where you said, “Oh come on!” (This will help you catch clichés or places where you need to go into more detail in your world creation.)
  • What do you think will happen next? What are you still wondering about?

Treat the reader with respect. Your reader will need affirmation of her effort by you addressing what she felt in your manuscript. Unlike someone who tells you what is wrong with your story and how to fix it, The Reader cannot be wrong. How can she be wrong about her own experience. It is what it is.

Even if your reader is bothered by something that is very personal to them, and the general reader would have no issues with it, it is better to address it.

If your reader is your companion, you will develop a type of partnership that can enrich your relationship. If nothing else, s/he will understand better what you are going through.

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