Writing Is A Bad Habit: Don’t Talk Down To Anyone! a.k.a. Respecting the Reader

You might notice, my literary foodies, that so much of what we do as authors revolves around the reader.  I don’t think I need to outright state why that is.  Well, no, I believe I should, because I’d hate to start a discussion without being clear about the most critical core concept of said discussion.  We cater to the reader because the key, core, primary purpose of any work of fiction is to entertain the reader.

Yes, there are often many other purposes, meanings, and deeper concepts behind our craft, but it doesn’t change this primary purpose.  No matter what we wish to teach, what themes we explore, or what other agendas we may be pursuing, the baseline criteria of success remains entertainment.  So, to that end, we strive to keep the readers happy and engaged with our works.  One key element of this eternal quest that is sometimes left by the wayside is the concept of ‘respecting the reader’.

While I want to avoid a recursive definition, in the end, respecting the reader means just what it says.  We, as authors, must always remember that our readers are independent minds and are often as smart, possibly smarter, than ourselves.  We must treat the reader as a guest in our fictional worlds, not as an intruder and not as a child.

In the simplest examples I can think of, we can look at your typical fantasy world.  In such a construct of imagination, we may feel that we have to minutely explain every new concept that exists.  Part of this feeling is justified and necessary, hence the need for smart exposition.  At the same time, though, we must have faith in and respect the imaginations of our readers.  Not every minute aspect and detail must be told to them.  They’re smart, they can fill in blanks, and they can apply their real-world experiences to smooth over gaps.  Don’t treat your reader as a fool and you will earn their respect.

This also plays along with reader engagement as well.  Treating them as idiots and wasting time with needless minutae bores them, while making them think and use their imaginations engages them and stimulates them on a mental level deeper than simple info-dumps.  This is a vital a concept to more down-to-earth genres like mysteries and contemporary dramas as it is to the far-flung realms of fantasy and sci-fi.

This also applies to the flip-side of such scenarios.  Expecting the readers to be able to figure out things they simply could not, such as presenting a mystery whose clues are never revealed, is equally insulting.  It is akin to inviting a guest into your home for a party, then brushing them off after confining them to a small corner room.  They can hear the party-goers enjoying themselves in the other room, but are kept out of the fun.

This only scratches the surface of reader respect.  There are many ways to earn their respect and each carries with it the opposite way to throw that respect away.  Judging your level of reader respect may be very hard to do on your own, being so close to your own work, so this is one of the many areas where having a wide range of beta readers can help you with.

At the end of the day, remember, like with all other forms of respect, a good rule of thumb is to treat your readers in a way you would expect to be treated reading your favorite author.  Between that, common sense, and following the guidance of your beta readers, you can be an author who welcomes the rest of the world to share their vision!

Until next time, good reading, good writing, and good luck!

Monday Musings: Caught in a Creative Cyclone a.k.a. An Overly Creative Mind

There is such a thing as too much creativity or, perhaps it would be better said, too little constraint for creativity.  Yes, good readers, it’s true!  Unconstrained, rampant creativity can lead to the exact opposite of creativity’s intention (to create), leading to a perpetual state of whirling ideas and useless pontification.  Worse, sometimes unconstrained creativity leads to a giant mess of a creation, so wrapped up in its wild, disparate parts that it scarce resembles anything cohesive.

I suppose I’ve always known this, but I received a lesson on this yesterday.  I am an avid pen-and-paper gamer, good old school roleplayer for decades now (a subject that will come up sometime soon, be assured!), and I was tasked with coming up with a new character for a small Pathfinder game.

“Okay,” I told the gamemaster (the person referring the game and telling the story for the uninitiated), “what are my parameters?”

“Whatever you’d like to play, as long as it works with the other player,” he replied.

“Wow, cool, this is a great chance to try out some of the more unusual things out there!  Thanks!”

So I went out into the world with a blank check.  Couple that with a fellow player with few quibbles with what I wanted to play and I could do almost anything.  Any kind of character could be my creation.  Therein lied the problem.

Unconstrained, my creative mind ran wild.  I had hundreds of ideas, intriguing notions I had stored up from years of gaming, and they all flooded in at once.  That led to hours of consternation, trying to sort so many rapidly evolving ideas and notions, half-baked character concepts all tangling up into a messy ball of unrecognizable dough.  I was being tripped up by my own creativity, having set no bounds for myself or having none set for me.

You can see this same effect in other creative ventures.  A writer with no editors or beta readers can spit out lurching masses of pages, tangled up with too many characters, subplots, and half-baked ideas to form a solid narrative.  A renowned filmmaker, in much the same way, might be let go creatively with no studio or editorial oversight and steer a beloved cinematic universe down an erratic and incomprehensible path (NO I’M NOT STILL MAD ABOUT PHANTOM MENACE, THANK YOU FOR ASKING!).  All creative people need filters, be they self-imposed or, better yet, imposed by others outside of the direct creative process, lest our imaginations all run off the rails.

Until next time, good luck, good reading, and good writing!

Writing is a Bad Habit: A Writer’s Most Vital Quality

This is going to be as short and sweet as I can make it.

There are many important qualities to being an effective writer.  So many, in fact, that to gauge them in importance against each other can be difficult at best.  However, this past year has shown me one quality that shines above all others.

To me, that is determination.  I think it’s a truism that hardship and adversity can breed the best stories.  The best of those adversities and tragedies are the ones we experience ourselves.  To live through these and to be able to express the pain and emotion of them requires determination.

On top of that, every aspect of our trade is one of overcoming the odds.  Continuing to write no matter how many rejections or ‘no’s we receive.  If we can’t do that, if we don’t have the determination to overcome, then we will never ever succeed at our craft.

So yes, no matter how creative or innovative or evocative of a writer we may be, we are nothing without determination.  I’ve struggled through the death of my best friend and now I have just dug the grave of my dog.  I don’t want to write another word, and yet I have to do so.  Not just to honor their memories, but to craft something positive from the pain their deaths have given me.