Why buy and read your book when there are so many others on the shelves.
Buying a book is a contract between the writer and the reader. The reader expects to be entertained, to be informed. Your book is a proposal to the reader. You ask “Does this mean something to you? I find this interesting, and I hope that maybe you will too.” And often the answer is ‘No’ and if that happens, and they don’t buy your book, then maybe you are alone with your obsession.
You can’t trust the reader without trusting yourself. Writing works best when you are conﬁdent about what you write.
When in doubt, assume the reader knows nothing. But never assume that the reader is stupid. In other words, don’t overestimate what the reader knows and underestimate what the reader understands.
She may not know it herself, but your reader will want the answers to three questions:
What is happening?
So don’t disappoint her. Deliver the goods.
So what happens when someone reads your words? Neurons fire in their brains. Some people call these mirror neurons. These are the neurons that help us to empathise. They fire when we see, hear or read something. For instance, we wince when we see someone stump their toe. Motor neurons are part of what neuroscientist call the “resonance circuit.” When you create resonance in your reader, you allow them to adopt the story as their own. In other words, our words light up our readers imaginations.
I have a ton of books I want to read. When I was a teenager, I would obsessively read everything by a favourite author. Nowadays I recognise it’s just not possible to read everything. There is not enough time.
Knowing this, what is it that we want for our readers?
Our readers are strangers, yet for a brief moment, they are also our friends. In many cases, they will come to know us better than we know ourselves.
So what do our readers expect from us?
They want to be entertained, to be immersed. They want to be drawn in with anticipation. They will follow you where ever you go. Your job is to do everything you can to help.
They are predisposed to trust you. You don’t have to tell them everything. Curb your temptation to over-narrate, over-describe, over-interpret, and over-signify.
Trusting the reader lets you share the burden of comprehension. This is part of the constant negotiation between you will have with your readers.
Try doodling an outline. It doesn't always have to be structured and numbered.
Outline everything. Get into the habit of outlining from the start. It will save time in the long run.
"Write the best story that you can and write it as straight as you can."
"All good books are alike in that they are truer than if they had really happened and after you finish reading one you feel that all that happened to you and afterwards it all belongs to you; the good and the bad, the ecstasy, the remorse and sorrow, the people and the places and how the weather was. If you can get so you can give that to people, then you are a writer." Hemingway
Where does one start? What can I tell you? I just don’t know.
I think that is the mystery of writing. That we just don’t know. Until we sit down at the keyboard or pull the cap off the pen. When we face the empty page, we just don’t have a clue. And then "Will it be any good?" How many times have you asked that question? I know I have. I think it every day.
Back in 1994, I started to read anything I could find to do with writing. I made copious notes. That’s what I’m going to share here: but only the techniques that work for me.
So what I intend to write regular posts about writing techniques. Short and pithy. Nothing more than a hundred words long. That’s the ambition.