I recently finished ON WRITING by Stephen King (one down on the TBR list!) and I highly recommend it to fellow writers. I suspect even non-writers might be intrigued by King’s insights into the insane business of fiction writing.
For anyone who has not read it, the book has two main elements: memoirs of King’s own journey as a writer including the story of his comeback to writing after his horrific accident in 1999, along with practical and entertaining advice on the craft. Both make good reading. His advice on adverbs alone cracked me up:
They’re like dandelions. If you have one on your lawn, it looks pretty and unique. If you fail to root it out, however, you find five the next day..fifty the day after that..and then, my brothers and sisters, your lawn is totally, completely and profligately covered with dandelions.
But I’ve been writing long enough that advice like this is not new. What I did find most useful are his ideas on how to deal with reader reaction and critical feedback.
You can’t please all of the readers all of the time; you can’t please even some of the readers all of the time, but you really ought to try to please at least some of the readers some of the time.
I ought to print this out and tack it up somewhere in my writing space. Just for those moments when my work gets slammed by a reader on Amazon or on an online review site and I forget that for each online bashing I can show at least 10 positive reviews.
The concept that struck me most in ON WRITING is King’s concept of an “ideal reader”. He writes:
I think that every novelist has a single ideal reader; that at various points during the composition of a story, the writer is thinking, “I wonder what he/she will think when he/she reads this part?” For me that first reader is my wife, Tabitha.
The Ideal Reader is the personification of your target audience. Someone who enjoys the genre and the type of stories you write, someone who “gets” you at your personal best but is also smart enough to know when you have fallen short.
I don’t think I have a single Ideal Reader. My critique partners are great but none of them love the Regency enough that I would write with them in mind. Failing an Ideal Reader, I’m all too prone to let the wrong people into my head when I’m writing: my mother, the nun who taught me in 1st grade, the random wacko on Amazon, the lady who wrote at length to chastise me about all the “pages and pages of explicit sex” in SAVING LORD VERWOOD (though she did say she forced herself to read the whole thing!). Having an Ideal Reader might help.
What would my Ideal Reader be like? She must love the Regency, relish a nice dollop of historical detail along with the romance, not have rigid expectations about whether she wants a sweet or sensual book, and enjoy reading about flawed characters.
Perhaps I am my own Ideal Reader. Pretending I’m writing just for myself often helps me through rough patches. But it is hard to judge my own work while I’m writing it and taking the time to let a manuscript rest is hard given publishing pressures. Thinking of a reader outside myself might be the better way.
Maybe, when I’m driving myself crazy trying to please too many different readers, I should just think about the Riskies and friends here. I’ll have to try that next time Mrs. Grundy gets in my head!
My fellow writers, what do you think? Do you write with an Ideal Reader in mind? What is she or he like?
For readers, whose Ideal Reader do you think you might be?