During a typical day, I write for about 6-11 hours. You might think that’s extreme, but you must consider that I’m a full-time author. I don’t have an outside job. My job is writing and I love my job. Today, I want to discuss a part of my process that I think can help a lot of new writers or writers who are still learning their craft. What I want to discuss is how you read what you have written versus how a reader reads what's on the page.
My first book was published in 2013 and since then I have released 12 full-length books (including DOMINANTS AND MORTALS that will be released this weekend), 4 flash fiction books, and one 4-book bundle deal. I always find it interesting when readers contact me to discuss one of my books. On one occasion, a reader made comments about MY book that made me wonder where in the book their reference came from. The longer I spoke to this reader or communicated to him through email, I soon discovered that what they were talking about didn’t actually happen that way in the book, but this is how that particular reader understood the passages they read.
When this happened (it only happened once, but once is enough for me), I thought I failed in making it clear in the book what actually occurred in that particular scene. No matter how many times I read the scene this male reader mentioned, I could not see how he ended up with his interpretation of what I had written. This forced me to conclude that maybe this reader wanted the scene to happen like he mentioned it, because I just couldn't figure it out. It was around this same time that I joined an online discussion for readers that loved the book “Silence of the Lambs.” The group was comprised of readers. None of them knew I was an author. I own copies of all three books in Thomas Harris’ series on Hannibal Lecter, and let me tell you, after I read comments by readers who read all three books, I found myself going back to the books to find some of the stuff they mentioned. But again, I couldn’t find it. Whenever I read the scene, I got an entirely different interpretation. The discussion got so in depth and analytical that I ended up leaving the group. But I got something out of it that can help writers.
What I got out of it is there is more than one type of reader. I never gave this any thought before.
Have you ever read a book and got far into it and read a particular sentence that made you wonder if maybe there was a mention earlier in the novel you may have missed? This happens more than you know, because some readers can absorb everything, including things that are mentioned only once in the beginning of a novel then not mentioned again until the middle or toward the end of a book. Unless a reader truly loves a book, they’re only going to read it once. For readers who can read the same book more than once, trust me when I say the second time they read it, they usually catch something they hadn’t the first time.
The kind of reader I am, I trust the author. When I like a book and go online to leave a review, I always find it interesting when I see reviews of lesser stars for a book that I thought was simply phenomenal. So I read these reviews to see what the reader didn’t like about the book. What I found out is some avid readers do NOT trust the author, and while reading they like to find what they consider to be flaws in the plot. This is inevitable. While I’m writing, I can’t allow this fact to affect my writing. But there is something that I try and do, and that is give clear understanding of each scene I write.
Some readers are passive; they simply go along with the book and believe everything that’s written. And then you have readers that are more analytical. They’re not trying to be mean or discredit the author. They just have an analytical mind. They need answers and if they feel they’re not given those answers, they feel they’ve been let down by the author.
Here’s another truth. An author can see each scene they’re writing about. In the end, they know more about their book than any reader would. Unfortunately, they aren’t able to make mention of everything they know, because the word count gets too big and they aren’t able to draw focus on what needs to be focused on in individual scenes or the plot. Some things they need the reader to figure out on their own. And this is good! Because readers are like detectives. They want to solve what they consider are mysteries in the books they read.
It is the author’s job to make sure there aren’t any doubts. We see the huge picture, especially in a scene or chapter. We must write each scene and chapter so readers fully understand what’s going on, but at the same time not give so much details that the reader gets bored. Finding that delicate balance of what to include in a chapter and what not to include in a chapter can become daunting for new writers. But don’t let it trip you up. I have several people that read my manuscripts in part or in whole, then give me their feedback. One of the people that reads for me, I trust her explicitly when she gives her opinion. Whenever I send my friend, Azize, something to read, I know she’s going to give it to me straight.
That’s what you can do, too. If you ever worry that your chapter isn’t quite right or you haven't made the things happening in it clear, give it to someone you trust to read it through, then listen to what they have to say.
All writers do this. I’ve met a few New York Times bestsellers. I can’t remember which one of them told me this, but one of them told me that whenever she has doubts about anything in her manuscript, she gives it to her teenage daughter, and when her daughter gives it back, her daughter has ripped apart the pages she’s read and found things, words, sentences she didn't think mad sense. This isn’t a bad thing. It’s a good thing, because we want readers to read the book as we’ve written it.
We can do this better if we get feedback from someone objectionable. Take me as an example. I'm very good at reading other people's work. I have repeat clients, because they know that I have an eye for fiction. The company I own receives manuscripts all of the time, and let me tell you. Some of my clients are traditionally published authors that have been in the game a while. There’s one in particular that trusts me to review her work before she sends in the final submission. She’s a GOOD writer. She’s fantastic! Her stories are compelling from the start. She knows how to draw in readers from the first sentence. The reason I’m mentioning her is because regardless of how good we are at writing, there are times we need someone else to go over what we’ve written. As good as a writer this client is, there is never a time I do not write her back and say, “Change this. Add this. Reword this.” Because she’s good at what she does, she oftentimes argues with me, but in the end, I’m always right. LOL. And she thanks me for it. That one little change can make all the difference to the reader.
What many indie authors don't is, depending on the publisher, especially the big five, when an author sends in a manuscript, the publisher rips it apart. They take out things and want other things added. It is a grueling practice, because the author believes what they submitted was a polished manuscript that wouldn't need any changes. It takes an objectionable eye and someone that understands readers to point out areas of a book that can be made stronger. Indie authors oftentimes don't have this objectionable person and to pay someone to do it can get costly. What indie authors don't have a lot of is cash, so having someone trustworthy to read our manuscript is invaluable.
When you’re writing, go over what you’ve written to make sure what you’ve written is clear to the reader. I feel the need to give an example. A guy that I've worked with in the past contacted me for a critique of a new book he's about to release. Every time he mentioned his antagonist, the people around him would fall and tremble as if the antagonist was God. I couldn't understand their behavior, so I would go back and read earlier mentions of this guy to make sure I hadn't missed anything. When I saw I didn't, I contacted the author and asked, 'Hey. What's up with this guy?' The reply I received was he didn't want to give too much detail about the antagonist too soon because he didn't want to reveal that part of his plot too soon. He couldn't understand why I would even question it. My answer is, readers have to see characters as human beings. I, for one, have never met anyone capable of having me quake on sight. Are you kidding me? I see myself as a strong individual. If someone tries to intimidate me, I think I will feel angry than fearful, and pardon my French, but I think my attitude would remain polite but still express, 'Kiss my ass.' That is the type of generation we live in. There's no longer a caste of rich and poor. We as a people demand that everyone realizes we are all equal. This is what I explained to the author. Unless you can make the reader understand why this guy can generate fear from everyone around him, you're only annoying the reader each time you mention him.
That is a prime example of how an author reads over what they've written versus what the reader reads on each page. Of course, a reader is going to draw their own conclusion about the characters we mention, but each scene should be written clearly. If you have any doubts it can be because something in fact isn’t clear. As the author, we know what should happen. Write it so it does happen without the reader questioning the scene and wondering what the heck is going on. This is part of what I did today. I have reached a part in my new manuscript that the voices have become silent. That is a big indicator for me that something I've written is too ambiguous and I must go back and make everything clear and after I think I have it clear, I might have to contact Azize and say, 'Hey, girl. You got a moment? I need you to read something.' LOL
But here's something I'm going to say often. Don't stop writing. Keep writing. Finish that manuscript. If you get stuck, remember that I opened the Readers-Writers Forum. You can pitch your problem, and myself or other members can steer you in the right direction. I can't guarantee anyone else's feedback, but I can assure you that any feedback you get from me will be spot on. And if I'm not mistaken, Azize is already a member. I'm not saying she'll be available to give feedback, but if you join the group and other people join, together we might be able to make a valuable community that can offer help to other writers. Don't give up! Keep writing! And stay tuned to the next thread in this blog.