Should Novel Writing Be More Like Letter Writing? – Day 323

First, to catch up – I’ve been away for about 10 days, taking in the Canadian Prairies with my family. In fact I’m writing this on the plane ride back. I had visions of setting up my computer overlooking some beautiful vista, but it was not meant to be. By the time the day’s drive was done, we’d found a place to stay, and got the kids fed and bedded down, there wasn’t much time (or energy) for writing. Ah well, it was good to get away, and great to spend some solid time with the family.

Of course the wheels kept turning. Somewhere along the line, I started to think about what it meant to be a writer. I think it’s a huge responsibility, being a novelist. Unless you are one of those people content to write your novel, press print when you’re finished, and put it in a shoebox forever (and I’m not…), you have to always consider the reader.

Because really, writing comes down to this: communication. The job of a writer is to communicate ideas, even if they are fictional. It’s not enough to simply come up with a bunch of words and slap them down. You need to consider how (and when) those words will impact your reader, intellectually, emotionally, perhaps spiritually.

You also need to create a world in which your reader can interact with your words. I don’t mean a point-and-click interaction, of course. Most good writing relies on the reader to supply a good part – maybe even half – of the imagination. If you’re describing a hospital room, for example, you don’t need to describe every little piece of equipment – the reader will automatically fill those in.

However, you do have to supply some information about how the person in the bed feels about being in that hospital bed, how the visitor feels being in the room with their sick family member/friend, etc. In fact, adding too much description of the room might actually take away from the quick and visceral impact of the sanitized-Downy smell, the pervading feeling of simple dread those stark hospital hallways convey, or the quick pinch of the IV needle going in.

The best writers seemingly do it all effortlessly, guiding the reader through the world they’ve created, holding your hand through the storyline, but giving you time to breathe and experience the story and characters on their own terms.

Does this all sound obvious? Perhaps it is. But I do think it is a good thing to keep in mind in any case.

But what’s the best way to connect to a reader you don’t even know?

I started thinking about times when I was writing someone a letter (remember those?) or a postcard. I had a very limited time and space to convey exactly the mood, setting, and story I wanted to portray. I don’t know – maybe it’s because I was writing to that specific person that I intuitively write for him or her as well. You include the details they’ll appreciate, share a private joke, use that shorthand that all friends have to get your point across in a fast and entertaining way.

Yet when we sit down to write a novel, sometimes the idea of a reader goes out the window. If anything, we start writing for ourselves. Perhaps even some of the “storytelling” aspects like those fine details your letter-reader would appreciate fall away, simply because your reader is, well, nobody in particular. Sometimes when we don’t have a specific reader in mind, we don’t have as firm a grip on the helm, another way people will drop you like a stone. If you can’t picture your readers, it’s harder to tell them a story, and connect with them.

So here’s what I’m experimenting with. I’m picturing one person in my mind, and writing directly to them. Of course, I’ll have to be careful with the inside jokes, but I think it might help to have that audience of one, and try to describe the story in terms they’ll understand. It’s like I’m writing a letter – a very long letter.

So far it seems to be working. I got a solid hour in today (in between catching up work-wise), and it’s nice to be back at it. I’m planning to get many more hours in during the days to come.

I’ll let you know how it goes.

~Graham

Novel Writing Hours

Today: 1
Total: 153.5

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One Response to Should Novel Writing Be More Like Letter Writing? – Day 323

  1. Todd Michael Greene says:

    What you’re really saying here is the age old, and true, advice of knowing your target audience. If you’re target audience is tweens, you won’t write your story the way you would for senior citizens. While the story is one that perhaps both groups who could enjoy there are many factors involved in making it relevant to each.

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