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Who are you writing for? June 14, 2010

Posted by techtigger in writing.

As so often happens, I am once again finding ways I need to improve my writing.  This week, the issue is trying to find the balance between description, dialogue and action.  It is all too easy, and for the writer, fun, to lavish words on elaborate descriptions of the world they’ve spent so much time building.  But is that really fun for the reader?

I just finished a book this weekend, by an author I adore – however, the book in question was dreadful.  I kept asking myself, how did someone so good at writing, at spinning page-turning tales of wonder, write this?  It was 90% description of the setting and culture, with a few vague lines here and there to keep the characters involved.   It was obvious the writer knew the subject matter, loved the history it was based on, but there was no plot, and no character development.  Just lots of pretty words.

The answer hit me this morning – the author wasn’t writing for the reader, they were writing for themselves.    And, I suppose it’s okay for an author to do an experimental piece now and then, but I plunked down $24 USD for a hardcover, and now I want my money back.

I am not going to get it back, but at least I did get this one take-away.  I will be writing for my readers. Even if I never get published beyond my own blog, I will keep the reader in mind as I write.   I do not ever want my readers to be as annoyed, and disappointed as I was with this book.

Which brings me back to my first thought, finding a balance in my writing. To work on this, I am putting together a checklist:

1: I need to have enough detail to put the reader in the scene, let them ‘see’ where things are and get a feel for the setting.  I will not describe anything that does not move the plot along.  No matter how ‘cool’ the description might sound when I write it.

2: I need to have the characters talk about things, rather than the author telling what happens.  Endless pages of me telling you about the plot, rather than characters discovering it is BORING

3: I will not have my characters sitting around talking at each other, they will be doing things. Even if it’s just fidgeting nervously, tweaking someone’s nose, or pounding  a fist into a wall.  No one stands still and talks without moving

4:  dialogue will reveal issues which will lead to conflict and require actions.  No yapping about trivial stuff that has nothing to do with the story

5: Action sequences will have a reason for being there. This is not a ‘no-scene-unexploded’ action film. There will be action, but only if it moves the plot forward.  The consequences of the action will lead to more conflicts.

Anyone else seeing a thread here? Nothing stays in a story that does not move the plot forward. I am going to be tackling my revisions with this in mind, and hopefully my readers will enjoy the results.  I suppose my $24 wasn’t entirely wasted on that book.  I got a valuable writing lesson out of it.

So, how do you find that balance? What things are on your revision checklist?  I’d love to hear how others tackle that issue!  And who do you write for, and why?  Let’s chat in the comments 🙂



1. Sam - June 14, 2010

Not that I have a clue what I’m talking about, being a relatively new convert to this writing lark, but I’ve found (so far) my characters tend to influence how I write, and where the balance between action, description, etc., falls in a piece. I started off writing entirely for myself, just to see if I still had the knack, but now I’m trying to strike a balance between writing for me and for my readers. Of course, I may well have got the whole thing horribly wrong, so I wouldn’t listen to a word I’ve said!

techtigger - June 14, 2010

I know what you mean, I always feel that push/pull when I write, between wanting to tell *my* story, and giving the readers something they want to read. I have to keep asking myself, what is this story about? What is important for the reader to know? I try to use that as a gauge to decide what gets cut. I always worry that I’m dumping in too much info – but sometimes need to, to keep story arc intact.

I may have gone too far in some of my flashfics, cutting out too much description to try and fit in more action & dialogue. Like I said, having trouble finding a balance.

As for characters, that’s another balancing act. It’s always a question of, what needs to happen for my story idea to work, vs how would this character react? I have completely re-written episodes simply because I realized the actions were out of character. It’s like player vs character knowledge in an RPG – can’t let what I know color what the character does 🙂

2. Mari Juniper - June 14, 2010

I’m totally with you Angie. I think we do write for ourselves, but we must strive to make the reader happy too. Nothing boring coming out of me either if I can prevent it!

Your list is fantastic! Cheers for reading “blah” books that teach us great lessons. I must thank this author of yours, since he prompted you to write this great post, heh. ;P

As for balance, this is something I’ve been thinking about too lately. I’ve focused too much on dialogue for a while, and now I’m going for balance. A good and succinct description helps out the reader imagining the setting and the characters. Tidbits of info spread around the story help out building a rich imagery too.

techtigger - June 14, 2010

I do write for myself, if only in that writing makes me happy. But the perfectionist in me insists that I spend hours and hours revising, so that someone else will be happy with it. Crazy? Maybe. 🙂

I’m thinking the first draft is the one you write for yourself. Put all of your ideas, flowery bits of prose and the kitchen sink into it. Then you hit revisions and try to turn it into something that won’t make your readers’ eyes glaze over 😉

Or at least, that’s how it is for me!

3. Marisa Birns - June 14, 2010

I have also spent too much money on books that were mostly “pretty” words. There were even some books that had been on must-read lists of book reviews in well-respected newspapers and magazines!

A good story brings the reader into the fictive world and allows them to enjoy life there without tripping on the author’s presence.

Agree with your excellent list. I’m sure that keeping those items in mind as you revise, will end up giving you a book people won’t mind paying $24.00 to read! 🙂

techtigger - June 14, 2010

You know, I would have had no problem if the book had been marketed as an ‘art’ peice, or poetry. (there was a lot of poetry).
But if you tell me it’s a fantasy novel, I expect the fantasy elements to be more than an afterthought. This was pretty much a history lecture, tarted up with some pretty turns of phrase, and one or two mentions of asian myths. Sorry, not good enough.

Of course, if they marketed it as art or poetry,or even history, I doubt I would have bought it. Score one point for the PR dept., but the readers lose out.

4. Laura Eno - June 14, 2010

Excellent thoughts! Although I think all writers write for themselves, if we want to entertain others we certainly have to write for the reader as well.

On the other hand, I’ve noticed that you can’t please everybody. The comments on Amazon to my romance illustrate that point – they run the gamut from: ‘Wow, oven mitts required’ to ‘sweet, a bit slow’. I just have to shrug at the various reactions. 🙂

techtigger - June 14, 2010

I’ve read your e-book, my vote is with the oven-mitts crowd 🙂

I agree, you can’t please everyone. And I know i sometimes have to remind myself that my job is to evoke a response in the reader, not just give them what they expect. More often then not, that’s been a good thing, people like to be surprised.

The problem with the book I read was that the characters were only there to have a way to prattle on about the historical period. He would spend pages telling you how they dressed, their social status, duties, and then kill them. Even the MC’s didn’t care, half the time they didn’t even notice. There were more redshirts killed off than in a Star Trek movie 😉

Adding a note to list – Do Not EVER introduce a character only to illustrate a point of historical trivia. 🙂

5. Anne Tyler Lord - June 14, 2010

Great post! I think those reminders are wonderful to keep in mind. And, especially during revisions. You have outlines good revision goals to keep foremost in thought when cutting and editing.

techtigger - June 14, 2010

Thanks! I think it really helps to have a hit list for doing revisions. Mine includes everything from words and phrases I use too much, to reminders to use all 5 senses, and of course, the points above. And people wonder why I have so many revisions of my flashfics! *lol*

Oh well, it’s good practice for the WIP!

6. Cecilia Dominic - June 14, 2010

Ha! Way to turn limes into Margaritas, Angie! Yeah, author showoff books are no fun. You should write the author and tell him. Maybe then he’ll pay attention to his editors. 😉

I like your revision hit list idea. I should do one of those. There are a couple of things: searching out “ing” so I can find the weak verb phrases, same thing with ly for adverbs. I also have to be careful about certain gestures because I tend to repeat them.

Hope your next read is better!


7. Jemi Fraser - June 15, 2010

Reading a book like that is very frustrating. “self-indulgant” as Simon (American Idol) would say.

I always need to make sure I give my readers enough description. It’s all in my head, but I don’t put a lot on paper.

8. KatharinaFive - June 19, 2010

I always write for myself first in the tell and then do many revisions till it flows for my readers. I want them to picture the world in their mind and see the story as a movie playing out in their heads. Great check list.

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