It would seem many authors and writers (authors to the extent they are authoring a product) forget they are not generally writing for themselves. Having said that, it has to be acknowledged there are a variety of different takes on the topic e.g. some feel it is only correct to write what they want without consideration of others; others say writing should be entirely geared toward the anticipated audience even compromising upon content to satisfy them; others suggest an amalgam of styles. Of course, in varying circumstances any of these, or a combination, may be appropriate. Nevertheless, this post is intended to be pragmatic and realistic.
When anyone writes, author or not, it is usually for others to read whether it be a book, letter, article, post etc. Consequently, authors/writers need to consider, phrase and frame their writing from the readers’ perspective. It is very easy for them to get so caught up in what they are doing as to forget who they are putting pen to paper/fingers to keyboard for. This, for the readers at least, can often lead to uninteresting, dry and irrelevant commentary and dialogue which will do no one any favours. Fundamental to authorship, which is what is primarily being discussed here, is the desire for others to read the end product. The author who writes purely for their own entertainment is truly a rarity, an inspiration and a challenge to most.
Despite the above comments and observations, when it comes to books, though other forms of writing may be included, all should, at least in principle, be writing because it is what they want to do and not because they seek fame or wealth. Naturally most authors would love their books to become bestsellers but to only write with that motivation can lead to distorted, poor quality publications. Make no mistake, readers, on the whole, are not ignorant, foolish people; they will quickly note when something is below par. Nevertheless, despite all that has been said, it must be acknowledged, as a general rule, authors want their books to sell; scriptwriters want agents, producers and directors to take up their ideas; newspaper and magazine columnists want their articles read; letter writers want the recipient to comprehend all they have to say; etc. Consequently, though they may be writing out of a genuine desire to do so, most will also, inevitably, seek to formulate their writing to achieve their aim.
Regrettably there are books where it is clear the author has got caught up in their own thoughts. They understand what they are writing and expect their readers to have the same comprehension without giving thought to whether they have the same background knowledge or experience. It is really easy for authors to fall into this trap; to get carried away with what they know forgetting others will be approaching the work with different perspectives, knowledge and experience. People’s comprehension of a phrase, idea, concept or word is frequently subject to their background; social, cultural, national, religious. However, it would be a minefield to try and take in all the various possibilities. Overall, authors and writers should constrain themselves to writing within their own national understanding. It is more than likely, if a reader has chosen their book, they are either from the same national or cultural background or have a good comprehension of it.
Now to the nitty-gritty of the subject. It is not easy for an author to step back from their ‘baby’ and view it from an others perspective. Most just want to get on with ‘their’ writing and not be bothered by such distractions. Some may even be so arrogant as to consider the requirement to consider others, primarily the reader, trivial; hopefully those who think like that are a minority.
So what does it take to write for readers?
- Research what readers want, whether it be in books, films, blogs or even letters.
- Consider the reader’s background, if possible.
- Authors should be aware of how things they read impact upon them; what they like and what they do not and why. They need to learn from this.
- Erase or limit superfluous words, phrases and descriptions, which may make sense to them and their circle of acquaintances but are not in wide popular use.
- Treat readers with respect: give them credit for being intelligent individuals.
- If the writing is specific, bear in mind the age, and as far as they can know it, the knowledge and experience of the people they are writing for.
- Avoid narrative or dialogue that talks ‘down’ to the reader.
These are just a few thoughts. No doubt readers of this post will think of other aspects that should or need to be considered.
One observation, regarding fictional works in particular, though the point may be extended to other genre. A book will distinctly benefit if the author is able to view the story as a film in their head. Characters, dialogue, scenery, etc. can all be based upon what they see and as a consequence may be more discernible for the reader. This is not something all writers find easy, though most, if they relax, are able to gain something from such vibrant imaginings.
The crux of the matter is simple: authors and writers should make time to stand back from their writing and take an objective view, endeavouring to see it as a reader will. If they really find they cannot do this, they should get a friend, acquaintance, editor (if they have one) or a reader to have a look. If they do not have anyone they could try asking their ‘friends’ and contacts on social media, perhaps somewhere like Goodreads. There are usually several people willing to participate in, and assist with, such ‘beta’ reading i.e. this is similar to testing a new on-line sites and systems but of course, in this instance limited to reading.
Naturally, as with anything, there are exceptions to the general rule. Some tales and stories need to be told in the author’s own style. The work may not become popular but it has to be acknowledged many interesting works would have been missed if some authors had not the courage and determination to write in the style they considered most suited their work e.g. James Joyce; William Faulkner, Jack Kerouac; etc. Sometimes a story has to be told in an individual style.
Whatever the circumstance, and no matter the style adopted, authors need to remember who they are writing for. They must avoid tunnel vision and accept, in most cases, they are not primarily writing for themselves.