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Author Topic: Why Readers Read
Member # 6044

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Ok, this question has been inspired by a (fairly) recent Kick in Pants by Dave Wolverton, which may be worth a read.

We know what we have been taught about writing, and what we have learned from other writers. But what about (non-writer) readers? What is their experience when reading? And how has this knowledge changed how you write what you write? (In particular, how has this changed your understanding of what story means?)

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Non-creative-writer readers' experiences when reading has been much in my thoughts now for a few years: appealing to an audience niche or a broad mass-culture audience and all audience sizes in between. They read when they want private, intimate, personal, individual, emotionally stimulating entertainment retreats from the complications of life. They want believable, or credible anyway, reality vacations. Surveying their reading desires, four features stand out universally: a protagonist with attitude who delivers a just comeuppance to a societal villain; close narrative distance--though they don't use that term, they describe their reading experiences in that regard--an identifiable and easily associated with dramatic complication--again, not in those terms but that meaning--and a strong participation mystique spell in an exotic secondary setting that doesn't challenge their willing suspension of disbelief--again, not in those terms but in those regards.

For the past year I've also been intensely studying how writers read, what their experience is.

I came recently to one of those writing epihpanies that sneaks up when you're not looking and isn't on the surface much to speak of but after realizing the implications blew the windows out of a skyscaper skyline downtown.

No one reads the same. The degree and scope of differences between individuals' reading skills and comprehension and sentimental interests is the window-shattering epiphany. Mike reads slowly, doesn't remember what he reads, doesn't care for any meaning not on the surface or not easily accessible, nor about counterculture lifestyles. Jim reads fast and close, doesn't like anything without subtext and that doesn't indict patronizing mainstream cultural practices and that doesn't preach against predetermination. Jill reads average pace and comprehension, loves LGBT literature but is as straight-laced as a Victorian old maid. Sarah reads close but not fast, is open to anything so long as a story involves tragically emotional personal in-person interactions. I could go on. What they all desire in common from a story I enumerated above.

This all changed my understanding of what story means, though I had intellectually grasped the narrative process, so that now I have a working process of how to artfully apply the structural and aesthetic qualities of narrative theory in my own unique fashion.

These attributes stand out for non-writing reader or writer-reader or critic or editor or publisher or literary prize committee or yada yabba dada dabba do: close narrative distance--character voice over narrator voice; fully realizing how to develop a scene's dramatic import and smaller and larger parts, parcels, and wholes; and how setting and character development influence plot development; in other words, the full ramifications of a dramatic complication's contribution to reader emotionally-stimulating entertainment. Give a protagonist a heavy identifiable-with problem that wants satisfaction, portraying a moving picture of the drama, and half the struggle is won.

[ June 01, 2012, 11:32 PM: Message edited by: extrinsic ]

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I'm not sure if it has change amy way of writing at all, except for when editors and such keep saying modern readers don't like certain techniques, like narrative writing and omniscient Third Person. But in the story and plot etc it hasn't.

But I am a reader as well as a writer. I can compare my reading self [Smile]

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In the last year or two I've gone to mostly Readers as first readers for my work. I have a few editor friends I ask for help when I'm ready for that level of attention, but mostly I just ask readers.

The reason? Because they point out the problems with the *story.* Writers point out problems with the *words.* This ties in well w/what I just posted on extrin's craft discussion --- the part of my brain that tells the stories is different than the part of my brain where the analysis (and where the individual words) lives.

For me, I don't care to know what other writer's feel about my words. We each use different words to express ourselves. I'm perfectly happy with the words I choose to use and feel that they suit the kinds of stories I tell. But when my story doesn't work for a reader, when they've stopped rooting for my characters or when I've confused them, that's what I want to fix/prevent.

Most readers tell me they just want to be transported. They want to feel immersed in another place/time/situation and they want to care about the character(s). This has helped me realize how important it is to convey details about setting *very* early, and convey details about character motivations and/or make sure there is something to empathize with the characters very early on. They need to be relatable. And we need to give a hoot about what happens to them. We = readers in this case. I flow very easily between writer and reader because I'm a big reader myself. Much of what I write I write because it's the kind of book *I* want to read. Nobody else has written it, so I have to. Woe is me. [Wink]

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Most readers tell me they just want to be transported. They want to feel immersed in another place/time/situation and they want to care about the character(s).
I think this is so key. Reading is an escape, for me as a writer as well. I was a reader long before I was a writer, in fact, reading is what made me want to be a writer--I wanted to put down words on pages that could do to others what good writers did for me--take me into another place for a while. So, like LDWriter2, I'm still someone who reads for pleasure and not to analyze, though I catch more mistakes now in other's writing than I ever did before. And in those times when I do read to analyze, I'm not generally reading for pleasure at the same time. I separate the two.

With all of that in mind, I try to create with my reading something that will help the reader to escape, to become absorbed in the world and characters I've put on the page. In my opinion, characters are the most important means of generating that absorption. Without compelling characters that we readers can identify with, well, I don't expect my readers to keep reading if I can't create those kind of characters. I know as a reader I'd get frustrated with a book that didn't cause me to connect in some way with the character(s). I usually give a book 100 pages to draw me in, but as I get older, time gets shorter. I'm thinking of cutting it back some to get on to other stories that do the job.

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A reader has his own expectations and has two types of reactions. It could either be acceptance of the story or rejection. Reading for them maybe a form of entertainment, it could also be their past time. At the end of their reading, they would always talk about how was the story. Those feedback are the author’s assessment of their piece. These will be the writer’s tool to improve his story.
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Its as extrinsic is saying...everyone is different. In any type of art form you'll get a general, group reaction but for each person its different individualistically. Some people don't like these notes in succession, some don't like those colors together, some don't like the way the director knitted together scenes. In the same way not every reader will like what you write. I wrote something a year and a half ago that I asked my friends to read. My writer friends told me it had some problems but my non writer friends said it was interesting and different so it drew them in. So who do you listen to? The answer is to yourself. Writing for someone else always seems to make the piece less personal, less entertaining, and a lot less fun to write in the long run.
As for my writing style though I find that the easier it is to read, via word choice etc., the more people get into it. Simplistic, but not so simplistic its childish, vocabulary tends to draw in more readers.

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