25 September 2008

Help Your Readers/Audience Connect

In most plot consultations, I never read a writer's work. Instead, the writer tells me their story scene-by-scene or chapter-by-chapter. I find I can better "see" the plot and structure minus the words. Sometimes, however, in an on-going plot consultations after we have worked our way through the first draft and I understand what the writer's vision for the project is and have a pretty firm idea of the overall plot and structure, I will read and comment on the manuscript itself.

In the case of a recent "reading" plot consultation, I was delighted to find that the writer I had been working with not only has created dramatic action with compelling characters and significant meaning, he also has a flair for words in creating his wonderfully imagined "exotic" world and delightful characters. It's one thing to listen to what a story is about and quite another to read that same story. Thankfully, this writer's project works at both levels.

However, I am finding, among other things, one consistent problem -- author intrusion. In the middle of a terrific scene, he will suddenly switch to summary and in his own voice describe one of his clever inventions for the story. This quirk of his not only instantaneously yanks the reader from the "dream" he's created in scene, his digression confuses the reader. The reason for this? Often, he spends time describing something that leads nowhere.

Example: the protagonist -- a boy of 13 -- has gotten in trouble yet again. This time the principal gives him a three day suspension from school and demands he meets with the board to hear whether he will be sent to a prison or a reformatorium. The author then goes into great detail about the prison and even includes a picture of the prison. The prison is named where the reformatorium is mentioned only as one of many.

Since the protagonist is sent to the reformatorium not the prison, the only thing the prison name and description contributes to the story is to create confusion.

The reader and the audience is constantly scrambling to determine what is important to remember throughout the story. When a character or a setting is given a name, we generally assume that which is named is something of importance.

In the first draft, get the story down. In subsequent drafts, consider your audience and write to them. Keep your reader in mind throughout. Do everything you can to make the transition into the story world seamless and effortless for the reader. If the reader becomes confused, they usually will not blame you as the author, but themselves as the reader. Before long, they give up. And you lose a potential fan.

Do you write primarily for yourself? When, in the process, do you usually consider your reader?