Saturday, March 6, 2010

You Can't Please Everyone...

Great advice from Margaret Atwood:

Hold the reader's attention. (This is likely to work better if you can hold your own.) But you don't know who the reader is, so it's like shooting fish with a slingshot in the dark. What ­fascinates A will bore the pants off B.

So true. She brings up two important points:

1) If you, as the writer, are bored with your own work, so will be your readers! Have there ever been times you're trying too hard as you write? You're forcing a scene to work when you know it's not? I have. Here's an example: In my last novel, I wanted something important to occur at a birthday party. It was a child's party, and I did everything I could to make it interesting. I had the cake, the party games, even a clown. But I was bored stiff as I wrote it. It just wasn't interesting to me. There was no spark to it, no energy.

So, finally, I decided to scrap it. I still kept the "important thing," but changed everything else. This time, I decided to let the birthday belong to the older main character (instead of her young sister). Except that nobody remembered her birthday. Not her father or her sisters or any of her friends. This added a whole new dynamic to the scene, and also gave her some extra character development. The point is, I was totally bored with the first version of that scene, and I have no doubt my readers would have been, as well! So, use your own internal "radar" to tell if a scene is working or not -- and then make the necessary changes!

2) This next point actually ties directly in with Point #1 - you've got to please yourself first. If you're constantly trying to "write to the market," or to think of what your reader will approve of, you'll never win. Like Ms. Atwood says, readers are totally subjective. You might adore romance novels, while your friend finds them shallow and dull. We each have a specific taste in literature, and there's no pleasing everyone. Thus, if I tried to determine what my (future) readers would love, I'd be wasting my time. So, I write for myself. And when I do that, I think the writing becomes more authentic because I believe in it more.

Which leads me to another fantastic quote, a philosophy I agree with, 100%:

Write a book you'd like to read. If you wouldn't read it, why would anybody else? ~Hilary Mantel


  1. Great post, great advice! Linking back to you.

  2. I really needed to read this today. Thanks for posting and sharing your thoughts. It's good to know I'm not alone in my writing frustrations.

  3. Thanks for the post, Abby! Nope, you're definitely not alone! :-)

  4. I like that idea of writing 'for yourself' first. It has to be so difficult to write for the masses. But if you have interesting characters, a great plot and setting, realistic dialogue....chances are there will be a market for that author's work.