Tuesday, February 14, 2012

Drawing in the reader

I'm in a quiet, in-between place in my writing: wrapping up (at least for the moment) Project Demo, trying to to do some background research to prepare myself for diving into Project Fun again. Also trying to get done all the things I've neglected in the past month (housework, practicing viola, reading). It's nice. For a bit. Give me two days, tops, and I'm sure I'll be bored out of my mind.

Anyway, being in-between projects like this, I was really struck when a beta reader of Project Demo and a Bristol friend, who has been reading Project Fun, both pointed out the same thing. Apparently I'm too subtle.

I know, who would have thought that?!

But even though my readers phrased it in different ways, they were basically telling me the same thing: my beginnings are slow. I think I've buried these little clues in the writing, but even carefully reading, they barely noticed. I need to grab my reader, pull them along, let them know that something big and scary is coming. As my Bristol reader said, "You need to go totally over the top. I mean, not really over the top, but for you it will feel like over the top."

I love that I have writing friends who know me well enough that they can give me feedback like that. Also, as I've been mulling their advice over in my mind, I've remembered I used to give my 7th graders similar advice about writing essays: "Pretend your reader is stupid."

Then they'd always remind me that *I* was their reader. Touché. But the advice stands. Sometimes what is obvious to a writer (a clue, a transition, how a quote proves an essay's point) isn't obvious to a reader.

Of course a writer can go overboard with this advice. And children's writers, especially, are always being reminded not to condescend to their readers. But some writers (like me!) need to be reminded that their readers don't have instant access to everything in the writer's head.

Do you consciously think about drawing readers in with your beginnings? How do you do it? Do you ever have to force yourself to go totally over the top?

*The image is from a Showcase Cinemas ad that I see every time I go to the movies. But when I think about drawing people in, I see this guy, waving us forward, gesturing us closer. The whole ad is here (and totally dorky, but maybe the visual will help you, too?).

12 comments:

  1. Great post, Anne! I like to drop readers right into a scene, into action, or into a conversation, with something that will get their attention. The MG book I'm working on now starts in a graveyard. Of course, the quintessential perfect opening is "Where's Papa going with that ax?" (Thank you, E. B. White)

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    1. I struggle with dropping readers into a scene, but also getting enough character detail in so that readers care. Unfortunately, I then to go to the other extreme and slowly explain everything. Maybe you're right and I need to try the dropping method for a bit!

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  2. You got me. I pretend my reader is super-smart. I might stop writing if I thought of them any other way. Maybe I should try...

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    1. Somehow I think we need to find a balance where we think our readers are the most astute, insightful people in the world, yet we want to be as clear as possible so they don't miss a single thing. Somehow... ;)

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  3. I actually like to have a little breathing room in the beginning so I can connect with the character. I do this in my own beginnings as well. But it's great that you have CPs that can point this stuff out to you.

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    1. Yeah, I'm the same way. It's a fine balance, isn't it? Making sure the beginnings are interesting enough to keep the reader reading, but not too overwhelming.

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  4. I live by the rule that you begin on the day things change for your MC. My books usually have some action or excitement right up front. Now, some people don't like that. They want to ease into a story, but that just isn't me.

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    1. I do that, too, Kelly. It certainly makes things a lot easier in trying to figure out where to start! But I still struggle with getting things rolling soon enough. You're probably right--I'm probably the type of reader who likes to be eased in, so I write like that as well. But I need to find the balance between both types.

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  5. Hmm. . . I appreciate a writer who thinks I'm smart enough to figure these things out, but the truth is, I'm not that smart. Afterwards, I'll catch on, but not usually in the beginning. I like the advice your CP gave you that it would feel over the top - for you - but wouldn't read that way. So do you plan to make changes?

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    1. I'm re-reading a book at the moment, and noticing so much more the second time. Which of course is normal, but some stuff is so good and important, we want to make sure everyone gets it on the first time through. So yes, I love my CP's advice, too, and I DID take it on Project Demo, and it did help tremendously. Now to figure out to implement it with Project Fun...

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    2. Well, Project Fun sounds like something over the top would just add to the fun? lol.

      Glad to read it is working out.

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