Newbie Writers podcast January 16 (Catharine is riding elephants in Thailand today)
Guest Anne Naylor, Dionne Lister
What do readers want?
How can we as writers’ give it to them or even know what the hell it is?
What readers want.
As an emerging writer, I want (and need) to know what readers want.
These are my thoughts.
As a reader, this is what I know:
My time is precious. I am very busy and I beg, borrow and steal time away from other things to read. There is too much to do, too little time to do it in and too much information to deal with on a daily basis. An author needs to give me a very compelling reason to start, and then continue reading his/her work.
I have a short attention span. I don’t necessarily read a book from start to finish. My eyes continually scan the pages, skip over pictures and headings, go back and look at what I have already read, read ahead or go straight to the end. I am constantly assessing whether a book is worth continuing with. If I come to the conclusion that it is not for me, I put it aside. This is also what I do when deciding whether to buy a book or not.
I read inferentially (as well as literally), which means I seek out messages that are not specifically stated in the text. I look at the words on the page and read them on ‘face value’, while at the same time looking for inherent meanings and underlying agendas. As I said, I continually make judgments about what I am reading.
If there are inconsistencies with the characters or contradictions in the plot, I think, ’I don’t get that’, ‘I wonder why she wrote that’ or ‘that doesn’t make any sense’.
I wonder if it is worth reading on. I like books that make me feel as though the author could have written them just for me, not for a mass audience. Some authors churn out novel after novel, all virtually the same. For me these books have no soul. Some authors seem to forget what it is like to be a reader.
I know that everyone is different and we all have our own tastes and preferences. Just because I am not really keen on a book doesn’t mean that it is not a good book. My sister once told me that the best book she had ever read in her life was The Shipping News. I couldn’t get past page three.
As a reader, this is what I want:
Questions to ask:
Anne says she want’s to get a good return on the investment of her time. And read books are that useful, relevant, interesting and entertaining.
Discuss each of these points:
a) useful - Ask for examples of each of these, or brainstorm on what a useful book is.
b) relevant – what relevant books have either one of your read?
c) interesting – what interesting books have you both read?
d) enjoyable and/or - And of course, what is pure entertainment? Is it mutually exclusive from books that are useful, relevant and interesting?
I want to feel that authors have given me something of themselves. How do you know when an author has delivered something of themselves? What are the clues or key? Or what do you think they are? Or is it like porn? We know it when we see it?
But that’s just me.
After thinking about all of this, I have changed my mind. I think I do know what readers want. What I don’t know is how to give it to them.
Perhaps the topic should be:
How to give readers what they want?
Now, there is a dark side to working too hard to anticipate exactly what readers want, because often they don’t know what they want until some genius has delivered it.
What newbie writers sometimes do is miss the difference between what readers want and what is trendy. Two different things.
Readers want their genres to deliver and that includes a novel format which can deliver the brand promise in that it has some qualities: Redemption, sword fights to the end, knighting, crowning, death, marriage.
So ask the question: Am I delivering this paragraph because it will help make the story more clear and more interesting to the reader? Or have I thrown in a scene that is random or gratuitous just because I think ti will be popular?
This is how summer films are made, this is how spin off sitcoms are made and this is why we think something is boring or awful, when it’s just derivative.
That’s the disadvantage , just to play devil’s advocate – Damien’s favorite game.
“We stand in our own shadow then wonder why it’s dark.” – Zen
This is often a refrain in our lives: we can’t, we should, we shouldn’t, it should be this way, we never do that, you should always do this. Life should turn out this way.
What about your character? What past situation has shadowed them? What shadows you?
Write about how stepping out of a shadow moves your character’s story forward.
Bring out your dead:
From the forums. Our very own Merkin Mysteries.
“Would you like some tea sir?” asked the plump waitress. The well dressed, middle aged man sighed with a reply, “No thank you. If you will Miss, can you leave us be for a while? We have important matters to discuss.” The waitress curtsied and waddled away. The gentleman turned back to the table and addressed the man sitting opposite him.
“Walter, why do you persist in coming here? This does nothing for my reputation as Chief Inspector, I cannot be seen wasting the afternoon having high tea. Not to mention, you are urgently needed out on the field.” The Chief sighed again and polished his monocle.
“MMM! You really must try this cake Kenneth, it’s banana and poppy seed. Such a great combination.” The Chief rolled his eyes and smoothed his moustache, clearly disgusted by Walters lack of etiquette. “The reason I come to this tea house, is I dislike the taste of ale and I’d rather steer clear of the clientele, after-all, one shouldn’t mix business with pleasure.”
Kenneth threw a paper across the table. “It’s happened again, this time a man floating down the Thames. Throat slit from ear to ear.”
Walter picked up the paper and smirked at the headline: “A Werewolf in London.” “You know, that’d make a great song title I say. What has a werewolf got to do with a chap with a permanent blow hole in the Thames?”
“Well, let’s just say the two bodies we’ve found so far have been clean shaved.” Kenneth glared at Walter for a response.
Walter finished another cake and leaned back patting his stomach. “Probably just a copycat of the murders I solved last month. The Stanton Skinner I think they dubbed him. Was a doctor who was scalping the bodies after he’d operated on them. Strange man. I’m sure this one will be easy to catch.”
“I’m not entirely sure how I can put this Walter. By shaved, I mean, down there. You know what I mean? It’s truly odd. Why would you murder someone, take their strides off and shave them?”
Walter pushed the plate of cakes away with a disgusted look on his face. ‘Take me to the body. I need to see this.”
Word of the week
In December 2010, my local community centre in South Gloucestershire revived Mumping Night, a procession and entertainment under the notional supervision of a Lord of Misrule. Mumping is an uncommon word for this seasonal activity, mostly known in the West Country. More commonly it’s mumming, for a performance that was originally in mime or in which participants were in disguise. The name for my local performance seems to be from a confusion between mumming and another old custom of the pre-Christmas period, also called mumping.
Mumping is attached to the feast day of St Thomas the Apostle on 21 December. This used to be known in some parts of England as Mumping Day, when poor people went around their parish begging for alms. It’s from the seventeenth-century Dutch verb mompen, to cheat or deceive, but it became an English dialect word meaning to scrounge or beg.
Mumping is also British police jargon for accepting small favours such as free meals from friendly tradespeople.
Sally Sullivan on Google+ for having some bizarre posts about cats.
Add your shout outs here.
Where to find us:
Anne Naylor: http://www.becauseofbipolar.com.au
Dionne Lister: http://www.dionnelisterwriter.wordpress.com @DionneLister
Damien: http://www.newbiewriters.com @newbiewriters Newbie Writers on Google+