Writing Tips and Tricks: How To Think Like a Reader, Not an Author

When I first started writing, I had a note card propped up against my keyboard that said, "Kill the author." It was a reference to something I'd heard at a conference about how sometimes as writers, we get in our own ways when trying to craft a story.

But I am an author. How am I supposed to step away from my story and see it the way a reader sees it?

Many times new writers are absolutely CONVINCED they are the next Stephen King, the next J.K. Rowling, the next Stephenie Meyer. One agent mentioned how many query letters she sifted through with newbie writers claiming exactly this--and I admit, I was guilty of it too!

I thought for sure my first book was the stuff dreams were made of. It was flashy and action-packed. It had catchy characters and a heartthrob hero and a kick-booty, feisty teenage heroine who was destined for greatness. Why wouldn't readers just gobble that thing up?

Because, while writing it, I was too much in my own head.

Sometimes when we're drafting, we see our stories play through our minds like a movie on a screen. We feel the heart-pumping emotion of a scene, we're caught up in the tension, the sweeping scenery, the sounds of the train chugging past or the smell of the pine trees our characters stand beneath.

I sent my opening pages to an editor for her critique at a writer's conference, chest puffed out, absolutely sure I had nailed it and was going to get a phone call any day from her demanding I let her publish my Work of Wonder.

But then I met with her and she said, "You've basically written a screen play."

Agog, I reeled in my mental ranting dispute and politely listened so I could learn from her (the way a good little newbie author should.) But I still couldn't figure it out at first.

I'd seen everything in my head--what was wrong with her? Why couldn't she?

When drafting a novel, you need to think like a reader, not an author

I mean, of course be your good ol' author self and write write write! But don't forget what you love in a story.

This is one reason why beta readers and critique partners are ESSENTIAL, especially to new authors. We see our story. We've gone over it so many times, we feel like it should be completely evident and clear to everyone else. The clincher is, getting another set of eyes on the manuscript, those readers don't know what you've seen in your head. They don't know what you were trying to convey, the way you do. All they know is what's on the page.

You need to make sure what's on the page is what readers want. 

I thought I'd done this. I'd had friends read my first book and say it was okay, but here's the thing about having friends read your stuff.

Many times, they don't know what a story needs anymore than you do.

Plus, they're your friends! They don't want to hurt your feelings, so they may gloss over how your story really affected them. One friend was trying to be helpful and said,  "Well, I got bored at the beginning."  Jaw gaping, I asked her what it was that made her feel bored. She didn't know. "It was just boring." She couldn't pinpoint exact places the way another writer could.

Writers are learning their craft just like you are. So if you team up with other writers, they know where to mark your manuscript to help you improve it.

Think about what you love in a story. Think about your favorite authors. Dig in, watch how they've crafted their opening pages, look how they've structured their scenes. I guarantee, it was probably deliberately done so they could create the image they wanted you, the reader, to experience. 

This is probably something I would recommend doing after you have your book's first draft down. If you have a story thriving inside of you, write that sucker down! Let it breathe, give it some life. And then come back to what you've got.

Look at your pages, look at your scenes. Are you using invigorating description that mostly shows rather than tells? Is your dialogue catchy and driving the plot forward? Kill the author and let the reader in you make sure what your book needs is there. Then find some fellow writers who can jump on board, who you can trade critiques with. You'll learn from them, help them celebrate their successes while they do the same for you.

You've got this!


1 comment

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