Tuesday, December 23, 2008

Respecting the Reader

I keep wishing someone would ask me about my writing philosophy. More specifically, I wish *Oprah* would ask me about my writing philosophy. Her people haven't called yet, but I believe in being prepared. I've given the question due thought and boiled my answer down to something deceptively simple.

Respect the reader.

Oprah will almost certainly ask what I mean by this, so I've come up with three talking points that I'll give her producers, along with the helpful suggestion that they project these on the huge screen behind Oprah and me.

  • Keep the reader in mind. We're not writing in a vacuum. Writing is meaningless unless someone reads our work and takes something positive away from it. You might be familiar with these statistics about romance readers from the RWA website: 78% of romance readers are female, 42% have a bachelor's degree or higher, and 24% read more than ten romances a year. The romance readers I know are smart, well-read, and busy. They deserve stories and characters that will give them several hours of enjoyment. They deserve books without parts they'd rather skip.
  • Say more with fewer words. We don't have to spell out everything for our readers. They're intelligent--they'll get it. And since they know we know they'll get it, they'll feel respected. Instead of "He was so angry he slammed his fist into the wall," we can just say "He slammed his fist into the wall." We should try to make every word count. This is especially true for humor--less is often more.
  • Keep it real. Hemingway probably said it best: "The most essential gift for a good writer is a built-in, shock-proof, bulls*&t detector." Our writing and our voice have to ring true. If our readers sense we're not being authentic, they won't trust us, and then they won't be swept away by the story. We want our readers to feel like they're in good hands and trust us to deliver a satisfying read.

So that's my philosophy. Usually, when I write a scene or chapter that's *not* working, it's because I've gotten so wrapped up in the writing process that I've momentarily forgotten about the reader. Once I step back and look at the story from her perspective, it's easier to fix.

Now I'm going to charge my cell phone and keep it close. Just in case. ;)

Before I go though, I want to wish you a happy holiday and thanks for helping to make 2008 a great year. Here's a link to my favorite Christmas song--it's from The Polar Express, the part where the kids are on the back of the train. I'm not sure why, but it never fails to make me cry. Actually I do know why . . . because I'm a sap. Enjoy, and may 2009 be your best year yet!


Keli Gwyn said...

Great post, Anne. Nice reminder to writers to keep our potential readers in mind. We may love our stories as written, but if others don't we've missed the whole point.

Here's hoping your phone rings soon with Oprah's people on the other end.

All the best to you in 2009!

Anne Barton said...

Keli, I feel confident Oprah will call me in 2009, if only to clarify the specifics of the restraining order.

And, may I say,(*sappiness alert*) meeting you was a highlight of 2008. You're the best. :)

JenBC said...

I just set up a Google alert for "anne barton Oprah book club." I just want to be one of the first to know when the news breaks and I'm afraid you'll be so tied up with press avails that your post might be delayed. I also set up a google alert on news of your writing pants. Please keep us posted.

Anne Barton said...

Jen, you are too funny. :)

The latest news on the writing pants is not good. I may need to purchase a *larger* size. They must be making the darned things smaller these days. Or they've shrunk in the dryer. Or I didn't realize I was in the children's section when I bought them. *sigh*

Anyhow, I got 2 pair(s?) for Christmas so I should be able to write reeally well now. Woo-hoo!

Thanks for stopping by Jen, you made my day. :)