Conversations in fiction are fun to write, and a wonderfully effective technique to build tension and propel the story forward. But what about a conversation between a writer and a reader? A conversation that weaves through and under the text of the book or story? Is this possible? I think it is not only possible, I believe it is happening, even though we may not recognise it as a conversation.
A conversation is a two-way dialogue, not a monologue, so we need to consider both voices – the writer and the reader. Your first experience of books was as a listener and reader, so it makes sense to start there. What is the reader saying to the writer? Maybe something like this: ‘Hmm, is this for me? Do I want to read this?’
The reader picks up a book, in a store or library, and says, though maybe not aloud, ‘This looks interesting. I wonder what it is about?’ And, expecting the writer to answer that question, the reader turns to the blurb on the back cover, to the description inside the front cover, to a review, or to someone who may know more about this book. If he or she am happy with the answer, he will go ahead and read the book.
Now let’s look at the writer’s side of the conversation. What is the writer saying to the reader? Surely the loudest initial statement a writer is making to a reader is ‘Pick me! Pick me!’. So a writer must consider the appearance and placement of the book, as it appears in the marketplace. If the reader picks up the book, and asks that initial question ‘I wonder what this is about?’, the writer must be sure the answer is there – beautifully phrased, in seductive language, and presenting an irresistible case. This means paying as much attention to the blurb, synopsis and author bio as you have given the crafting of the story. It means allowing the same narrative voice to attract the reader. All your talent, training and hard work is wasted if the reader does not actually read your book, your story. And the decision will be made in that first few seconds of being intrigued enough to pick up the book to find the answer to that initial question ‘I wonder what this is about?’ You have experienced this yourself, as you browse a book store or library, or online website. So many books, so many possibilities – what attracts you? What voice persuades you to select, to purchase, to read? Being a successful writer means more than simply writing a great story, it also means persuading the reader to purchase. And that is what this initial conversation between the writer and the reader is about.
And the ongoing conversation? Now the reader’s questions and statements change, and will include ,
‘Where is this?’
‘Who said that?’
‘Hang on, who is this character again? Where does he fit in?’
‘That doesn’t make sense!’
‘Hah, I didn’t see that coming!’
And the best question of all – ‘What happens next?’
It is to be hoped the reader’s final response will be ‘Wow, that was a great read.’
The writer must be sure to anticipate these questions, and to answer them as fast as they arise. The writer becomes so very familiar with the story, it may be difficult to see why a reader would not, could not, understand every part of it. But ask another writer to critique your story, and you may be surprised to discover the gaps, the misunderstandings and misinterpretations. As a writer, you have two powerful techniques to ensure you anticipate and properly answer reader questions: the first is TIME – always put a story aside for several weeks, unread, to allow yourself the distance to see it afresh, with critical acuity. Overnight is simply not enough time. Yes, you are excited. Yes, the competition deadline is tomorrow. Forget it! You are doing yourself a real disservice if you rush your stories out. Get into the habit of having several ‘in the pipeline’, so there is always one that has, like a great wine, had time to mature before you rework it. The second technique is to have at least one writing buddy prepared to critique your work, to ensure the reader questions are all satisfied.
You are putting so much effort, skill and time into crafting your stories; be sure to give the same attention to this conversation between you and your reader. Like every good conversation, it will surely lead to new friends, new readers, and new markets for your work.
Convention has it that writers work alone, in isolation. But the truth is, every writer is part of this larger conversation between writers and readers. So speak up, your readers are listening