7 Things Your Reader Needs To Hear You Say

time, time, time... see what's become of me.

time, time, time… see what’s become of me.

1. I respect your time.

When you spend some time with me, it won’t be wasted. The subject line in my email won’t create a false sense of urgency that leaves you feeling fooled.

If you open it and skim the content, you’ll probably want to dig in because there’s a real payoff.

Same for the headline of my article or the opening hook of a short story. If you persevere till the end you won’t be disappointed.

At the very least, you’ll know I put in the time and addressed the finish of my story with the same thoughtfulness and concentration that I applied to the opener.

To the best of my ability, I’ll make it a good experience and completely worth your time.

2. I respect your intelligence.

you've got me thinking.

you’ve got me thinking.

I won’t talk down to you. I won’t skip over something difficult because you might not understand it. If there’s an elegant way to explore the intricacy without the storytelling bogging down in those details, we’ll do that based on my best guess of how much you’ll enjoy.

Detail and nuance that lend well to the overall storytelling won’t be avoided or glossed or dumbed-down. If it’s something worth learning about, I’m willing to do my part so that the reader and I learn about it together. But I’m not writing a Wikipedia entry. I won’t explain unlimited things that you could Google on your own. The storytelling will come first.

3. I respect your imagination.

While I won’t withhold or merely dangle a topic that we should explore, I will sometimes hint at things when I know you can get it or when innuendo serves our purposes more than the broad light of midday. And to be sure, I will prefer the well-placed adjective or descriptive phrase over a laundry list of unneeded detail. I’ll delete anything that doesn’t add energy to the scene. And I’ll trust many blanks to be filled by the reader’s imagination.

4. I respect your point of view.

If I’m a religious adherent, I won’t portray every evil character as a ruthless champion of a secular worldview, nor as the living embodiment of the highest archetype of evil in my own faith tradition, nor as the leading figure of a rival tradition.

Likewise, if I am an atheist, I won’t portray every believer in my stories as a wooly-minded simpleton. Sometimes smart people believe very different things from what I believe.

If I am politically conservative, I won’t portray all liberals as sad dupes to an evil system, nor as lazy toads with hidden agendas. If I am liberal/progressive in my own politics, I won’t portray all conservatives as greedy fear mongers.

It’s part of my job as a writer to think beyond stereotypes and to present characters with nuance and internal contradiction, characters who are consistent enough to make a firm impression but inconsistent enough to seem like real human beings, real people capable of surprising the reader. In fiction, especially, if I’m not doing this I’m not doing anything.

Fiction should never become the extended disguise of a political or religious pamphlet.

5. I’m still learning, too.

Being an author wields all  kinds of cred, but it doesn’t mean that you’re finished or complete or some kind of perfect person. If anything, the opposite holds true. Your creative accomplishments and engagements are no kind of license to be a shit to people, but the best writers are quite often exceptionally self-aware. With this awareness comes vulnerability and a head-on engagement with ones own flaws. Likewise, the desire to write something meaningful to an audience requires that you go on learning and expanding your mind for the rest of your life. That’s the cost of this game, when it’s played at the highest level, so I may as well invite you inside that adventure.

While I’m at it, if I sometimes put forward a narrator who seems a little arrogant or brutish in some way, please don’t confuse that character for me, the author.

6. I understand that the relationship between reader and writer is intimate.

That doesn’t imply anything sordid. It doesn’t even mean that we’ve met. It means that if we do meet up sometime, in a safe public setting, the whole experience may seem a little surreal or even slightly awkward.

That’s because if I go off to my special place to write things for you… and you go off to your special place when you read them… we’ve then communicated mind-to-mind. That’s the highest level of intimacy, a level that sometimes gets sacrificed to robotic routines with the people we’re close enough to touch. I promise when we meet I’ll do my best to respect and honor this closeness without it getting weird.

7. Thank You.

Doesn't "thanks" look nice in classic Letterpress?

Doesn’t “thanks” look nice in classic Letterpress?

As a reader you’ve been more than just an audience. You’ve been a participant in this magic.

We’ve been in a kind of play together where you were the knowing therapist or a whole team of them and I was the patient.

Yet somehow I got top billing. At least once in a while I did and it amazed me.

I’ve been thinking out loud long enough that sometimes people benefit from what I say and recognize themselves in it. Occasionally I get to be the star of my own madness. But I know it doesn’t mean much if I’m performing in front of an empty room. So thanks for being co-star and audience and therapist and so many good and necessary things. It’s been an honor and a privilege to work with you.

11 thoughts on “7 Things Your Reader Needs To Hear You Say

  1. Really clever article, Mark. I think a lot of writers forget that they don’t exist in a void, and their work becomes a connection between them and their readers.

    • Yes. And still other writers get so obsessively concerned with audience expectations that a kind of hyper self-consciousness inhibits them and becomes very counter-productive.

      I’d say that sometimes writers need to disconnect a little from social conventions, norms, and role expectations. To bring through your most creative work, you’ve got to have one gear in your head or one mode of writing where you’re purely entertaining yourself on the page or screen. That opens things up.

      But then you’ve gotta come back with fresh eyes and edit yourself.

      Finally, you need a few trustworthy and empathetic early readers.

  2. Mark, this article actually brought a tear to my eye. Lovely sentiment and so true. Nothing moves me more than when a reader connects with my writing and this eloquent article you’ve written is a great reminder of why I write and for whom I write. Thank you. Mindy

  3. Thanks, Mark. A writer could spend years chasing the Lit Degree and attend countless writer’s workshops and masterclasses and still not get the goods as concisely and as accessibly as this post. Your words make it easy to remember who were polishing for!

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

You may use these HTML tags and attributes: <a href="" title=""> <abbr title=""> <acronym title=""> <b> <blockquote cite=""> <cite> <code> <del datetime=""> <em> <i> <q cite=""> <strike> <strong>