Hey author, don’t forget your reader!

All too often when writing, authors forget their readers. This is somewhat understandable. In nonfiction an author typically is an expert who knows more about the subject than the reader; in fiction, an author is akin to a god creating a world and so knows more about that universe than anyone else. Given this, a book’s organization and explanations often seems obvious to the author.

Every act of writing assumes a reader, however. To be a successful writer, the author almost always must recognize the reader’s level of knowledge, reading skills and even their cultural background. To further complicate the matter, no reader is exactly alike.

As writing, authors ought to consider who their audience generally is. If for children, this may mean using shorter words and sentences. If writing for teens, this may mean being aware of their social and maturity issues. If writing for an adult, this may mean understanding the level of their technical prowess and adjusting accordingly. Always ask yourself, “Will my reader be able to understand what I’m saying?”

That’s difficult enough when writing textbooks, technical manuals and magazine articles. Where fiction is concerned, there’s an added element: Readers are “participants” in stories. Readers typically want to arrive at some place “interesting’ via your story. Because of this, readers are willing to be “deceived” by you as they surrender themselves to your world in which the main character saves a city from terrorists with a nuclear weapon, as an elderly retired lady solves a murder, or as a spaceship encounters aliens on another planet. Regardless of the world the author has created, readers are only willing to be deceived if the author presents a plausible lie. That requires being aware of just how much the reader is willing to accept.

Regarding the “plausible lie” in genre fiction, reading always involves “protocols.” That is, there are certain expectations of how the story will be structured and of what is permissible. For example, in science fiction set during a future time, there almost always will be the use of new words that indicate the world is different. “Star Trek” crew members, for example, don’t use phones but “communicators.” This wouldn’t fly in a murder mystery set in modern day Cabot Cave, Maine. Authors who write genre fiction need to be cognizant of these protocols to best reach their niche audience. In addition, they should be aware that such protocols often make a work less assessable to non-readers of the genre.

Considering this, readers picking up a story from any genre – or when picking up a nonfiction piece, for that matter – are aware that the reality they’re engulfed in is different than their own. This requires a different degree of attention when reading, and for authors, an awareness of it when they’re writing.