Writing Through a Reader’s Eyes

As a writer, I do know how to separate my writer’s side from my reader’s side. I mean, I will analyze the book and how it goes about telling the story, but I don’t let myself get hung up on the little stuff because the average reader doesn’t care, so why should I? In my own writing I get hung up on the little stuff, but I feel like we writers get so hung up on the little stuff that I often wonder why that is. Is it because it’s been pounded into our heads to obsess over the little stuff, or are we trying to appease the experts, wanting them to say we’re great writers because passive voice is nonexistent in our books (or something else readers really don’t care about)?

I’m here to say your average reader doesn’t care about that one time you used passive voice. Or even the five other times. They’re only going to start caring when it becomes obvious you’ve used it too much. You might have your reader who is also a writer or a reader who is a grammar Nazi, but I’ve never respected the latter and the former is probably why we obsess so much over the small stuff.

Readers also don’t care about ‘said bookisms’ or adverbs as much as we think they do. They only care if it’s used too much. But if you have one instance where you use an adverb instead of a stronger verb, your reader isn’t going to care. Only you will. And perhaps your editor. I just got back into AbsoluteWrite, and it kind of reminded me why I stopped: Because these writers are downright snobs, so obsessed with pounding out every grammatical detail that we forget the story is so much more important. It’s probably why I retreated to YALITCHAT, because we’re more concerned with the story and the reader than we are with the small stuff. If you’re on AbsoluteWrite, don’t take my above statement to mean you. It’s just my general experience. I feel like you can’t mention that you got published without some of these users scrutinizing you and the company who accepted you. That hasn’t happened to me, but I’ve seen it.

I feel like many writers don’t look at their manuscripts with readers in mind. I feel like they think about the writers who are readers when going through and polishing everything. “Will this reader get on to me about this adverbs, or this passive voice, or this split infinitive (which, by the way, has no strong basis for why it can be used)?” We forget that when we go through, we have to think about the pure reader. The reader who only wants a good story, not a book that showcases examples of flawless grammar.

Does this mean we should eschew some of the small stuff? No way! That would be an insult to our readers. It’s like ballet dancers eschewing their technique because the average audience knows nothing on ballet. They might not care if you bend your knee on a pirouette, but we know a straightened knee is far more beautiful, and we want to give that type if beauty to audience members who shelled out a fortune on the tickets. You want to give your audience the best performance possible, and the best performance does include a highly-polished manuscript. But don’t be upset if you find you missed a piece of passive voice you meant to be active. Or that you even found a typo. The fact is, if the errors aren’t too much, your average reader will look at the story and nothing more–unless they are writers who are readers. These guys will tear apart self-published books for little reason other than being petty and trying to prove why the stigma exists. But they are not true reviewers in my mind.

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Author:

Also known as The Dancing Writer, she is currently working on The Stars Trilogy, among other works.

5 thoughts on “Writing Through a Reader’s Eyes

  1. My ‘secret’ (not that I’m published or anything; writing is definitely a hobby rather than vocation) is to write in a way that people think/’speak’ — flow is my goal. Obviously, one has to be mindful of spelling and grammar and whatnot, but I’ve always ignored the whole ‘passive voice is evil’ and whatnot. There’s better things to be doing!

    1. Exactly! Passive voice can be used brilliantly, especially if it matches the voice of your character or overall tone of your book. I’ve always said to do what works.

  2. On Writer’s Carnival (link again below) I have not been shy about asking for comments on the contents, rather than my grammar. The first time it was because I expected to rewrite the whole passage. In the end I only rewrote parts of it.

    I have no experience with other literary forums, so I can’t say anything about review culture elsewhere, but I prefer comments on the contents on my writing, and that’s the kind of reviews I like to give. Such as “does the character know that?” when I feel the author is cheating.

    Unless something is interfering with my enjoyment of reading, I try not to comment on grammar or word-usage too much. I leave language editing to others, but I also keep a good grip on myself when I’m writing and try to pay close attention things like passive voice (it can creep in unintended) and POV hopping.

    The essence of my point is: don’t be afraid to ask for the kind of review/editing you want.

    http://www.writerscarnival.ca/

    Jack

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