In honor of my wonderful Ideal Reader’s birthday this past week, today’s post is going to be about the Ideal Reader–probably one of my most favorite people to deal with in the writing universe.
In Stephen King’s On Writing, he said the “Ideal Reader is also the best way for you to gauge whether or not your story is paced correctly and if you’ve handled the backstory in a satisfactory fashion.” I believe this is true. Your Ideal Reader, as a definition, is that person that you write for. They represent your audience. They are the type of people you are writing for, and having a representative of them can be your greatest asset.
There are two main take home points King brings up when dealing with your IR:
- Watch your IR when they are reading your work. I realize this sounds sorta creepy and maybe unnerving, but you can gather a lot of helpful information by doing so. Be looking for certain reactions: when they laugh, when they are able to put your manuscript down and work on some other activity. These reactions can help you figure out where the story needs to pick up pace and where you are accomplishing the effect you are looking for.
- Listen carefully to where your IR didn’t understand. Your IR is similar to a search dog. They can sniff out those passages that just don’t make sense. It’s very likely that those places they didn’t understand, you probably don’t understand yourself*. Ask them what exactly they are confused about and try to pinpoint what areas need fleshing and/or clarification. Some areas that tend to have problems include backstory, description and character motivation, so keep your eyes peeled for those aspects as you write.
*Note: I have found that if the writer doesn’t fully understand the motivations of a character or how things work in their world, it shows in their writing. I’ve noticed it in my own work. I tend to get very vague and wishy washy about what I want to say in regard to the scene or event I’m working on.
When I work with my IR I do things a little bit differently. My IR has a lot more involvement in my writing process than King’s does in his. Rather than locking her out entirely as I’m drafting, I tend to use my her as a sounding board. Lucky for me, I work with her almost every day, and I’m able to bounce things off of her whenever I want, and I’ve found it helps me flesh out the world more completely. She asks me questions that make me really think about what I’m writing. How things work, why things happen the way they do, stuff like that. Numerous times she’s helped me out of literary jams and writer’s blocks, and provides the occasional encouragement that every writer needs.
In the selection of IR’s, I would highly recommend you find someone close to you that you could trust with babysitting your first born child, because that’s what your work is, right? I pick from those that I have known the longest and have been with me from the very beginning of all beginnings. I’ve known my IR since the beginning of my first book, True Heir to Freedom’s Throne, when I was 13, but I didn’t realize that she was my Ideal Reader until I reconnected with her after high school at my current job. The moment I figured this out was the best day of my life, might I add, because I got a better idea of who my target audience is. It really improved my writing a lot, and I am so grateful for her.
Oh, and one more thing:
Happy Birthday Jess. I freakin’ love your guts. ❤