Monday, October 27, 2014

Checking in with Your Reader by Annette M. Irby

woman reading*

You’ve put your outline beside you, if you plot first. If you’re more of an SOTP (seat of the pants) writer, you’ve got energy and instinct to keep you writing. We have a lot of story elements running through our minds as we work, all the things we need to remember. And we may have a deadline or a personal goal pushing us on. But how often do we consider the reader while we write?

Recently I read a rough draft of a scene where at the beginning of the passage I knew where the characters were, but by the end, I couldn’t recall. The author had lost the reader, left the reader out. We can help our readers follow us by checking in with them, or in a sense, involving them. Considering them as we work.

Here are some tips for checking in with your reader throughout a manuscript:

* Reminders—as you’re writing a scene, you likely picture the setting in your mind and see your characters moving around. Readers rely on us to show them what the atmosphere is like. We can do that via the five senses. What I’ve noticed is many times writers only describe the scenery at the beginning of a scene. But you can check in with the reader by reminding them the characters are, say, outdoors by mentioning a cool breeze, or a flitting butterfly, or whatever is fitting for the tone, setting, and POVC’s (point-of-view character) voice for your scene. Another practical reminder is a quick mention about who someone is to our main characters. You can do this subtly so the words don’t feel like reader-feeding. Now, some say RUE (refuse the urge to explain), and I agree to some degree. Still readers appreciate being reminded that so-and-so is Susie’s second cousin’s brother’s bff. ;) If you only tell readers once, they may not remember and worse, may not recall where to find the info on this guy.

* Meeting their expectations—what do readers expect from the genre you’re writing in? If you’ve previously published, what do your readers expect from you, from your voice? I’m not suggesting we be predictable, but that we satisfy readers. So, you “check in” with them by considering whether the work will meet their expectations (and/or exceed them). Ask yourself how others might perceive the story. Get feedback. Involve readers.

* Ministry—checking in with readers can also mean praying about the best way to minister to them and letting the insights influence the work. Jesus used story to minister, so this is true of fiction writers as well as non-fiction authors. We can ask ourselves: how can my theme and plot illustrate what God has shown me?

There are several other ways to check in with readers. How have you done it in your writing?

Write on, friends! 

Annette M. Irby

Annette M. Irby has two published books and runs her own freelance editing business, AMI Editing. Her next book releases in early 2015. She is also an acquisitions editor for Pelican Book Group. See her page here on Seriously Write for more information.


photo credit: woman reading a book by Naypong;