Announcement: Posting on Mondays and Thursdays except when real life interrupts

Friday, 27 September 2013

Writing For Someone You Know

(Image Created Using
Writing For Someone You Know
(Thoughts on Stephen King’s ‘Ideal Reader’ Concept)

A slightly shorter post, this time, as I’m very busy with quite a few projects, some of which are writing and some of which aren’t. But I became inspired to write about a particular topic today - one which I believe everyone should keep in mind when writing, whether fiction or non-fiction, poetry or prose.

Stephen King touched upon the topic in his fantastic book ‘On Writing’:

“If you’re writing primarily for one person besides yourself, I’d advise you to pay very close attention to that person’s opinion. And if what you hear makes sense, then make the changes… Call that one person you write for Ideal Reader. He or she is going to be in your writing room all the time: in the flesh once you open the door and let the world back in to shine on the bubble of your dream, in spirit during the sometimes troubling and often exhilarating days of the first draft, when the door is closed. And you know what? You’ll find yourself bending the story even before Ideal Reader glimpses so much as the first sentence. IR will help you get outside yourself a little, to actually read your work in progress as an audience would while you’re still working.”

I write for my girlfriend before anyone else. It isn’t necessarily true that I listen more to her feedback than to anyone else’s, but I always have her in mind when I write, and that notion is enough to influence the course of my writing. I imagine how she would react while reading, what questions she would ask, which suggestions she would make, and which moments she would smile at or become bored while reading. Of course, even knowing her as well as I do, my guesses are often wildly wrong. Some parts I thought she would find boring or difficult to get through, she liked. Or vice versa.

But it’s not that important to perfectly second-guess your Ideal Reader, as King terms them. Indeed, that’s not the idea at all. If I perfectly second-guess what my girlfriend would say, then the process is no different than giving her the manuscript to read through. I might as well do the latter and save myself the effort of thinking about it. But I’d prefer to do both, because they both help in different ways. A critique from someone who believes in you is always something worth listening to, but writing with your Ideal Reader in mind doesn’t involve their opinions in any way - it involves your perception of their opinions. In that way, it’s a fusion of minds - theirs and yours. Joint creativity stemming from a single mind. And, when you write for someone you know, you can consciously feel the change in direction in your story. It isn’t necessarily a change in the direction of the
plot, but a change nonetheless, perhaps in the direction of your description, your focus in a scene, your emphasis on a theme. In my experience, when such a change forces itself onto the page, it’s almost always for the better.
Those who write for everyone, I consider to lack that same subtle guiding influence prompting these changes. For some, of course, it is entirely unneeded. But for others, particularly less experienced writers, it occurs to me that those subtle influences give you the best chance to create something worth all the trouble of writing it. Of course, the worst thing of all would be to write, not only without someone you know in mind, but also with the sole intention of monetary gain. If that’s the way you think about it, then I suggest you stop right now and have a good think about your priorities. Someone who writes for someone that they know and love shows by doing so that they are thinking about it in the right way.

Now, take note. My advice with this post is most definitely NOT to find yourself an Ideal Reader if you haven’t already got one. That’s just silly. Don’t feel like you’re missing a vital piece of your equipment if you aren’t writing with a particular person in mind. That comes naturally. I didn’t decide to write for my girlfriend. I found myself doing so one afternoon whilst writing. No, it can’t be forced if you don’t yet have someone who fits the role. Don’t worry, you’ll find them before too long.

My advice is simply to listen to that nagging influence at the back of your mind while you’re writing, because it’s only the most intelligent and creative part of your mind that can house the opinions of your Ideal Reader. So listen to Stephen King, and pay very close attention whenever they decide to speak up.

No comments:

Post a Comment