Any writer with internet access, or a library card, knows that there is a wealth of advice out there. Hundreds of people, experts or not, have something to say on the topic of writing. It’s easy to become obsessed with ‘doing it right’.
Writing the first draft can go one of two ways: you either spend very little time worrying about quality and focus on finishing, or you fixate on the million and one things you should apparently be doing in order to be a ‘great writer’. Some of us are fortunate enough to have found a way to do things that works for them.
But I want to strip it all back to basics. Because, in the end, the real judges are our readers. They are the ones that decide whether you are worthy of 5-stars. So shouldn’t we be focussing on giving them what they want?
Essentially, things like plotting out a character arc and ensuring there’s conflict in every scene is giving readers what they want. The problem with trying to apply these to our writing is that we begin to forget why we’re doing it. It quickly becomes something we feel we have to do because we were told to, not because it matters.
If we all take a moment to remember that the techniques we’re trying to apply are part of a much bigger picture, our writing experience will improve considerably. So try this:
Start thinking like a reader, not a writer.
As a reader, what do you want? What are you looking for in a book? What does it take for a novel to become one of your favourites? Ask yourself these questions. The usual answers are things like:
I want interesting, empathetic characters. Interesting doesn’t mean perfect, it means flawed, quirky, different. Those flaws take your character on a journey: a character arc that touches down at the other end and fills the reader with pride.
I want a plot with a memorable conclusion. Memorable doesn’t have to be in your face, it could be the most obvious or obscure explanation for a series of events. Lead readers away from it throughout the novel by exploring other, completely plausible, options.
I want a story that changes my perspective of something. The change doesn’t have to be extreme. Simply introducing a ‘what-if’ is enough to make a reader question their impression of the world.
Now write down what you find interesting in a person, situations that would make you cringe, an ending you’d contemplate for hours, something someone once said that changed your perspective. Incorporate all those things into your own writing and you’ll notice that it’s easier to create conflict, push your characters and deliver a kick-ass plot.
Sometimes it’s easier to focus on an audience of one – yourself, your mum, your best friend – and write something for them. The odds are that there are plenty of others out there that would like what you’ve written just as much, if not more.
Do you think like a reader or a writer?