Thursday, September 15, 2011

Knowing What You Like and Writing What You Know

Every reader knows what they like. Even young readers know. They might not be able to put it into words, but they know it when they see it. It just plain resonates with them. Let me give you an example that has nothing to do with writing or reading. And yes, it will make sense by the end of this post.

A couple of days ago my hubby and I took Kid A out to eat for her seventeenth birthday. While we were out partying, my sweet neighbor tended our other three children. Now, for those of you new to this blog, my two boys--Kids B and C--are mentally disabled. While they are teenagers in body, they are about eight developmentally and have limited speech.

My friend, who is amazing and awesome, entertained my kids all night. Toward the end of the evening they took an interest in the family portrait hanging in her front room. She had quite the conversation with them about it that went something like this:

Awesome friend(hereafter known as AF): Do you know who those people are?

Kid B and C: Yes.

AF, pointing at herself in the picture: Who's that?

Kids: You.

AF: Right. Who's this?

Kids: Husband.

It went like this through each family member until they reached her super cute teenage daughter. Then it went like this:

AF: And who's this?

Kid C, leaning in closer: Very nice!

I giggled myself silly when I heard this story. What can I say, Kid C knows something good when he sees it. He knows what he likes.

It's the same in a book. It doesn't take a reader 250 pages to decide they like something. Stories don't grow on people like moss. Readers know within the first page or two if it is their kind of thing.

What does that mean for a writer? It means you need to know what you like, too. And then write it. You have to enjoy your own story. If it bores you, it will but the reader into a coma. And just in case you are confused, coma is only one step better than dead. Killing or otherwise maiming/incapacitating your reader is bad.

We spend so much time as writers trying to craft the perfect story, trying to mold it to fit an editor or agent's preference. We try to write their kind of story. Why? We need to be more like Kid C and write the kind of book that will make us say, "Very nice!" That enthusiasm will show in our words, and then someone else might just say the same thing.

Now go have fun writing your kind of story.


Jonene Ficklin said...

Wow, amen to that! Sometimes, it stops being our story, because we're trying too hard to meet up to all the literary expectations or current hype. It's good remembering what it's all about - an awesome story with characters that we, personally, love. Great post!

Jenilyn Tolley said...

Very nice post! :)

Sometimes I think that I'm writing the wrong thing, but if I love it so much that I'm willing to suffer through editing it, it can't be that wrong, right?

The Stanley's said...

Very nice connection.
And I believe cute teenage daughter was very flattered by the compliment.

Nikki Mantyla said...

Haha, love the naming-of-the-family-members story. So great! And I completely agree. When I actually have a bookstore to myself (no children to supervise) I love to get the booksellers recommendations and then read the first couple pages of each. If the book grabs me that fast, it's often a winner. But it's so intimidating to make my own book likeable that fast! Still working on it . . . but great advice.

LeishaMaw said...

Jonene, here's to awesome stories. :)

Jenilyn, I've wondered the same thing so many times. For me it all comes down to why I'm really writing. Is it to sell a book, or is it the writing itself? Selling my work would be awesome, but I can live without it. I can't live without writing, so I'm going to write what make me grin.

The Stanley's, I hope so!!!

Nikki, aren't we all? Maybe someday someone will love my story as much as I do. :)


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