Thursday, August 30, 2012

The Importance of Being a Reader (to a Writer)

"How important is the reader to the writer?" wrote a reader, which started me thinking.
We look at who and what the reader is. The writer imagines the reader as her audience. Could be someone she knows. Could be a sea of someones. What is the sound of a performance without an audience? 

The first reader is the writer. The writer must be delighted by the work and feel it accomplishes what she set out to do. But to make the work an act of communication and sharing rather than one of personal entertainment, she gives it over to a second reader. 

The next reader is important to the writer because he can point out where the work is confusing or seems unfinished. The writer may have a picture in her mind and think the characters are conversing at a table in the backyard, but the reader may wonder if they are at home or in a café. Are they siblings? friends? married? separated? parent and child? The second reader's job is to ask the questions so the writer can clarify what is going on.

Once the writing is out in the world, the readers determine how long the story lives. In an online article called "Why the reader/writer contract is important" by Susan Rand, she writes:
When an author sits down to write a book she enters into a contract with the reader. The reader's part is to buy the book and recommend it to his friends.… the writer promises the reader that she will take his hand and guide him safely through the world created in the book. 
It is assumed that if the story is advertised as a gentle story of the natural world, it won't become a graphic horror story halfway through. If it does change outrageously like this, the readers will feel betrayed. If the writer antagonizes the readers, the readers won't want to read anymore. Additionally, if the writer is skeptical of the readers, the readers will feel it. The writer must treat the readers as equals, she must not dismiss them, either by explaining too much or writing over their heads. If the story is lost, the message is lost. 

The writer trusts that the readers will engage with the work and give it a fair try. The readers trust that the writer respects them and provides what is promised. The story comes alive when it is written and reactivated when it is read. And through the readers, the story lives.

1 comment:

Velma said...

good answer, alisa.