Monday, March 16, 2009

Building a Solid Story--Moving to a Reader-Centric Viewpoint in Your Writing

Today in my class at the Hudson Valley Writers' Center in Westchester Co., NY,we talked about moving from a writer-centric viewpoint to a reader-centric one. It's a natural part of a writer's evolution. A maturing, where we begin to see why someone else would read our book (besides our mother, best friend, and partner/spouse). In other words, we begin to write for a reader.

This isn't about compromising your ideals. It isn't about not telling your truth. It's about becoming less self-focused.

An odd idea, for us writers. Aren't writers supposed to be self-focused? After all, that's where we get the juice--from our lives and our imaginations.

When I got my novel manuscript back from my editor (see my overwhelmed post below), I realized the book was a stranger to me. I was no longer on center stage, as The Writer. The story had now become my reader's. I almost didn't remember writing certain parts. These, of course, were the parts my editor liked best.

What happened? In the editing and revising stages, I'd moved out of the "room" and all that remained was my story--and an open door, welcoming my reader.

I hate books--and wonder how they ever got published--where the writer is The Writer, on his or her soapbox, telling us what to think about every moment in the story. Don't you? But how do you, the writer, get out of the room where your story lives? How do you convince yourself that it doesn't need you there, acting as interpretor for your own story?

Know what I'm talking about? It's insidious...our need to interpret our stuff for our readers.

This week, pick a piece of your writing that's at least a month old. Read a page out loud. See if you can be surprised by something in there, maybe not remember writing it. Like it, even. Are you The Writer or the writer?


  1. Hi Mary,

    I love reading a blog posting such as this that will forever slightly tilt the way I write, read, etc. This is such a simple idea but with a profound impact. I have always been frustrated with the "institution" of literature education and the idea that there is a right way to read or interpret written works. This posting, this idea, is exactly what I have been striving to articulate. When I write, I certainly have an idea or certain perspective. I'm always astounded when a reader pulls something out of my writing that I hadn't even considered. At first, it was difficult to calm my internal yell ("No! That's not what it means!") but now I find it inspiring, even beautiful.

    By the way, I'm taking a course at the Loft in Mpls and we discussed your idea of the presume last week! :)

  2. Kristin,
    Thanks for this encouragement--not everyone likes the idea of writing being its own thing, having its own life, but most of the writers I admire say "Those characters were talking to me" or "The writing took off on its own" or "I don't even remember writing that part." It's a good sign. And yes, it opens up completely different interpretations that you may not have intended--but isn't that the beauty of any art form, that it becomes partly the viewer's own journey?

    And cool that you are discussing presumes in the Loft class. Yay! The word's getting out there.

    Thanks for writing (and writing!).

  3. Does this apply also to memoirs? I guess I don't really know what a memoir is supposed to be. Am I not suppose to be of my experiences, what I saw, felt, and thought? Have I been writing all this too much as an ego trip? Should I tell the story as if it is someone else, using the word she rather than I? Should I just forget thinking of it as a book, write it simply for a possible interested family member after I'm gone, or what. I really don't know what in the heck I'm doing. I've enjoyed the writing I've been doing but don't have to do it. I have plenty other interests, and realize too, that actually my family couldn't care less.

  4. Great question--yes, you do include yourself in your own story. It's important, though, to not interpret the story for the reader. Let the actions and dialogue and setting show us what the effect is. What the truth is. And look for an even more detailed answer in next week's post (Tuesday morning). Thank you for writing!