What Do Reader’s Want … By Nancy Brophy

Comma’s are the bane of my existence. No matter whether I’m putting them in or leaving them out, I’m wrong. I’ve come to accept this when my friends ask, “Have you considered buying a book on punctuation?”

Comments abound on writer’s loops about the horror of Indie-pubbed authors not putting out perfect books. Even if you, like I, have someone edit for errors they still turn up. Frankly, formatting was invented by the devil. But the question isn’t about the formatting of the book. No one writing a critique praises perfect punctuation.

The real question is what do readers want? 

They don’t want to trip over grammatical and punctuation errors. We all know that. No one is striving to write poorly. But readers for the most part aren’t reading to critique, they are reading because they want a good story.

More than anything else a reader wants to feel emotion. The stories we carry with us are the ones where the character resonated with us. Maybe it wasn’t the greatest story ever written, but we read it at exactly the right moment in our life. I read Little Women probably around the time I was nine or ten. For a long time, the story was my favorite going so far as to motivate me to become a writer. But I reread Little Women as an adult. What a preachy, self-serving novel. How could I have liked so much as a child? Because I loved Jo.

Our goal as writers is to evoke emotion in the reader. When we think of Scarlett O’Hara, Frodo Baggins, or Harry Potter we think of people we’ve helped overcome obstacles. Through identification with the characters, their fight is also our fight.

We, as writers, have to make their quest the best possible challenge. Your character has to face insurmountable odds and be willing to give everything. If the character holds back, the reader’s participation will skid to a halt.

In Titanic, the heroine leapt from the lifeboat onto the sinking ship to save the hero. This resonated with young girls. The heroine gave her all. Older women in the audience, many of whom could author a book, called, “What I Did for Love” may have thought the heroine was a fool, but we weren’t the ones who saw the movie fifteen times.

The reader must connect with the characters on page one.  And this is craft – the heart of a good story. Because evoking emotion is not through angst, but though technique. Give your characters a quest they can’t refuse with a ticking time bomb in the background. Show me the story, don’t tell it to me. Make your setting work. Who can’t picture Tara, or Mordor or Hogswart? Utilize the five senses to draw me in.

I am reader as well as a writer. I, too, want a good story.  In Hell On The Heart, Czigany Romney is perfectly happy. Yes, she’d have liked to have graduated high school, perhaps even attended college and become a CSI rather than working for her father and Uncle as an asthmatic sidekick. But leaving Armadillo Creek would be impossible. A gypsy without family would be like a ship without a rudder – directionless, unable to function.

Agent John Stillwater’s scarred face reflects the life of man dedicated to protecting his country. Currently his team is dealing with a nationwide white slavery ring, but lack evidence to prove it. An unusual set of circumstances in a nowhere town in Texas leads John to investigate. Can a petite gypsy woman bring down a man the FBI can’t find?

I would love to hear your comments.

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Posted on June 1, 2012, in General and tagged , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink. 3 Comments.

  1. Every book, from NYT bestsellers to midlist to self-published have errors. But it is the obvious consistent errors that drive me crazy in any book. Fortunately, there have been few books I’ve purchased with that problem. I think writers obsess far too much about where the comma goes and often too little about where the turning points and climax best fit in the story.

    I agree 100% with Nancy that what makes the story is characters you want to hang with and root for through hundreds of pages and hours of your time. Why did Twilight catch on so well? IMO the writing was not amazing from a literary perspective, but it did two things very well. It tapped into the teenage psyche of an angsty love that is mysterious, complicated, and “literally” to die for. It also did something different with the vampire mythos by creating vamps who didn’t drain people of their blood. The combination of the love story and the “good” vamps are what caught the imagination.

    About a year after I began my writing journey, I decided to make a point of reading at least four blockbuster novels each year–and particularly ones that I didn’t necessarily like. The reason I do this is to understand why it became a blockbuster. No matter how much I may have not liked the prose style or the writer’s voice or, sometimes, even the protagonist what I found every time is that the story had a hook into the modern psyche of its audience. Every time I found that, even if I didn’t like the protagonist, I wanted to know how it ended. Every time I found that, even if the prose wasn’t my preference of writing style, I kept turning the pages to find out what happened next. It is these craft items relating to story and structure and characterization that make a book become something other than a forgettable afternoon of reading. I aspire to write a book like that–one that my reader can’t put down, wants to know the ending, and is rooting for the protagonist even if my line-by-line prose isn’t her cup of tea. 🙂

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  2. Gina Fluharty

    I agree with Cassiel! I love a great story but if I find errors on every page of the story, I feel cheated. Love how the blog post turned into a promo, as well. Good marketing!

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  3. I totally agree with you as to what is really at the heart of what readers want – a good story well told. On the flip side, since I’m a reader and a writer, finding books riddled (and I don’t mind the occasional one and I certainly don’t mean commas :-D) with grammar and typos makes me not enjoy the story as much as I would otherwise because, to me, it means the writer didn’t care enough. A personal thing, I’m sure. In many cases, I suspect it’s the quantity of errors that raise a reader’s brows. As usual, great, thoughtful post, Nancy!

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