Tag Archives: Novels

Who are you writing for?

A meme popped into my Twitter feed the other day: A good writer always thinks about their reader.

At first glance that looks like sage wisdom that’s hard to argue with, but my hackles immediately rose. Always? No, I really don’t think so.

Maybe at the editing/polishing stage, but at the writing stage I think the writer should be focused on the story and the characters. Trying to write with an amorphous ‘reader’ peering over my shoulder demanding to know what I’m doing would be incredibly distracting and unhelpful.

The ultimate aim of writing is, of course, to communicate, so once the story is written I try to gain as much distance as possible and see whether what I’ve written communicates the ideas and emotions I was aiming for as well as words possibly can.

But even then the only reader I have in mind is myself (far pickier and less forgiving than anyone else I know when it comes to books). If I were writing for ‘a reader’ which one would I pick, since they’re all individuals? It’s only at the professional editing stage that I start to think about the strangers who may read my book and how to ensure they enjoy the story I’ve created, helped by the fresh pair of eyes my editor provides.

So, a writer should think about the story, then about themselves, and only finally about the reader. Hmm, not quite as snappy for posting to Twitter, but – I think – more helpful to writing a good book.

What’s your opinion? Should a writer focus on their audience at all times, or (to borrow a metaphor) should they write like no one’s watching?

It’s all a matter of taste…

The thing that fascinates me most (maybe – books are endlessly fascinating) is the question of taste. I’ve lost count of the number of award-winning, rave-reviewed books that I’ve thrown across the room. Whatever the award judges found in the book eluded me entirely.

Meanwhile, books that I love and praise to the skies and push on friends and relations with the assurance that they, too, will adore it come back with a pulled face and a lukewarm, “It was all right, I suppose…” (words intended to spare my feelings rather than provide a genuine opinion, I’m sure).

A lovely pile of novels
Which would you rather? These …

I suppose this is no different from taste in other areas – we don’t all like chocolate (really?), or brussel sprouts (quite) or the colour indigo, after all. But I am fascinated by how these preferences come about. Science has discovered why some of us love brussels and some hate them (it’s genetically dictated by the number and type of taste buds you have, apparently), so I wonder if one day we’ll know why I sighed and tossed aside that Waterstones’ Prize-winning novel while my friend has read it seventeen times (and counting).

Picture of brussels sprouts
… or these? (Picture courtesy of porbital via freedigitalphotos.net)

Am I alone – or does anyone else scratch their head at what other people saw in an awful book, or why no-one else adores your all-time favourite novel?