Thursday, August 12, 2010

Why readers read

I got a nice phone call this afternoon from a woman who attended my workshop on Sunday who's interested in working with me. What most impressed her she said was my conversation about reader-focused writing.

For years in my professional and health professional writing classes (non-fiction), I've talked to students about writing for the reader. This goes beyond knowing who your target audience is. It means writing so that the reading experience is both communicative and seamless. First, communication. This means writing in a clear, clean way that presents the material in an easily digestible form. It means letting go of fancy styles and trying to impress the reader with your sophistication so that you can get the information across. Second, it means taking great pains with the conventions of grammar, punctuation, and formatting so that the reader is not caught up in noticing how poorly you've edited.

For fiction and memoir writers, the second rule applies in the same way. You want your grammar, punctuation, and formatting to be invisible, so clean and transparent (I'm tempted to say "normal" that the reader pays it no mind. In terms of content, you want your reader to be completely caught up in your story so that they forget they are reading and they are just experiencing. For that is why we read fiction and memoir: to experience what the author is writing. We want the act of reading to fall away and be transported. That's one definition of successful writing, I think: it's a form of transportation.

Monday, August 9, 2010

Some thoughts on writing conferences

As writing conferences go, I'm a relative neophyte. I met people over the weekend who've been to 6 or 8 different ones in the region, people who flew from Florida and Maine to attend ours, people who've been to this one 8 years in a row. Dedication or insanity?

Some people like conferences. They like meeting new people, get a lot out of listening to others' ideas, feel stimulated by the crowds and hubbub. I, however, am not one of them. I'm a visual kinesthetic learner so listening to speaker after speaker isn't my best way to get ideas. I know that about myself so I only went to two workshops the whole weekend. Friday morning I listed to Hallie Ephron talk about what makes a good mystery novel. While I'm not writing a genre mystery at the moment, although my novel has a big mystery at its center so far, I love reading good mysteries and now I know a lot more about their structure and why I like the ones I like. Plus she recommended some of her favorites and they were writers I'd never heard of.

Yesterday, I listened to Larry Brooks talk about characterization and breaking successful characters done into their parts was really helpful for me and a good exercise in the left brain/right brain combination that goes on in fiction writing.

Two speakers 48 hours apart was perfect. Time to think about what they said, apply it to my own book, and not be overloaded.

The manuscript consults went well. It surprised me to learn that most of my consults were paying to have two or three of us read the manuscript and compare notes. The best conversation I had was the one on Friday. I felt like the author and I partnered to discuss her book. The others listened to what I had to say, agreed or disagreed, but in three cases, they had already completely reworked the pages they'd sent me so it all seemed superfluous.

I was flattered though to hear one fellow say that he had tried to get a critique with me last year and my slots were all full. He had a copy of my memoir. Nice. Another fellow approached me Friday as I was sitting at the book signing table and asked if I had a workshop. Yes, on Sunday, I said. He wasn't coming that day but he had loved my workshop from the year before. Nice.

My workshop went great. It was in the last session of the day slot and I thought there'd be no one, but 35 people showed up, laughed when I was funny, asked great questions, and the time zoomed by. I came home quite contented.