“Questions” or “Ask, and Ye Shall Hopefully Come Up With Some Answers”

As I start brainstorming new ideas for my next writing project, I’ve found myself wondering: Will anyone want to read this?

It’s a little odd, for me, since this is not a question I usually bother with. My more typical “interrogative sentences, phrases, or gestures” are:

– Who is this story about?

– What are they doing?

– Why are they doing that?

– Do I care about this, yet? Alright, then what’s next?

– How can I work XYZ in?

– Ooh, wait – what if…?!

– What goes horrifically wrong?

– How do they feel about that?

– How do they deal with it?

– Wait, does that make any sense? Okay, good, it’s explainable. So now what?

– How many miles between Vegas and Yellowstone, again?

– How in the world does this end?

Any thoughts about my future audience will run more along these lines:

– When and how do I plant this clue so they won’t see the surprise coming, but it won’t feel out of the blue?

– Are people going to be able to empathize with this character?

– Will they have any chance in heck of pronouncing this name correctly?

For the most part, though, I don’t think much about the readers while writing, other than to remind myself to keep the book readable. The first reader I’m aiming to please is me, since I’ll probably be spending more time with this book than anyone. The second is Tirzah, since she’s my writing buddy/beta tester/soul sister and practically has joint custody of some of my characters.

Beyond that, yeah, I’d love to have more satisfied readers than an audience of two. But I can’t predict what everyone will like. And even if I did, I don’t know that I’d let that dictate my writing.

If all I wanted was to sell books, it would be a different story. Then it would be mostly, or possibly all, about writing what a big chunk of the population would want to read. And there would be nothing wrong with that, if selling books were my first goal. But it isn’t.

My first goal is to write stories I love. My second goal is to have other people love them, too. Goal 2.2 involves making money off of that love, and Goal 3 involves Walt Disney Animation Studios and Broadway.

Goal 1 plus Goal 3 would look something like “Paperman”. Haven’t seen this short film yet? Totally have, but just feel like watching it again? Got 7 minutes? Click the pic and go for it.

Goal 1 plus Goal 3 would look something like “Paperman”. Haven’t seen this short film yet? Totally have, but just feel like watching it again? Got 7 minutes? Click the pic and go for it.

So maybe I’m asking myself the wrong question, at this brainstorming stage. Maybe what I need to be asking is:

– How can I thrill myself?

– Which characters will I want to hang out with forever?

– What book can I pull out of me that will make me so super proud that I wrote it?

Selfish-seeming questions, on the surface. But I believe that the best work comes forward when the artist’s heart is wholly behind it. In the end, my readers will be far better off for my thinking of them second.

Back to thinking of first things first, then: Who is this story about?

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16 thoughts on ““Questions” or “Ask, and Ye Shall Hopefully Come Up With Some Answers”

  1. I totally relate. What’s worse about thinking about an audience is that it becomes that much easier to lose yourself in writing for someone else instead of for your own pleasure. I’ve been there far too often, and I’m still a lowly unpublished one-foot-in-the-closet writer. 🙂 I love the questions that you usually ask about your stories. I find that when I keep those in mind, the audience question tends to fade into the backdrop.

    P.S. Paperman is amazing. The end.

    • True words, Sam. The placement of the writer’s focus plays a huge part not only in what they write, but how they write it. Guess that means we writers can’t worry only about our characters’ motivation — we’ve got to get our own straight, too!

      P.S. Yes. Yes it is.

  2. I’ve never gotten far enough to ask the question – “How in the world does this end?” I wonder if I ever will? LOL I think you’re right though; it has to be absolutely enjoyable to you. Anything else, and I think the audience will sense that the passion is missing.

    • I’m the sort that has to plan out the story, start to finish, before I ever set down a word in earnest, so these questions all come early in the process for me.

      As regards missing passion, yeah, that would probably kill a book fast. Unless the author was reeeally good at masking their indifference. I’m too poor a liar, though, so I’d just as soon write with honesty. X)

  3. The problem of trying to write for your audience just ends up in a paradox. Most writers’ first novel will be the book they (the writer) wanted to write/read. If they then amass a following, they have done so because people like their way of thinking/writing. So to then try and write for an audience doesn’t make sense, because what they are likely to want is what you want for yourself. I think it’s much better to write something you like. There are enough agents/publishers out there to worry about whether anyone else will like it for you.

    Writing for yourself is much better. See if you can write a twist that you didn’t see coming 😛

    • Ah, yes, the unforeseeable twist! I love that element of surprise — both during the plotting stage (“Aw, man — *that’s* gonna happen? Sweet!“) and during the writing itself (“Characters…what are you doing?? I didn’t plan that… Sweet!“).

  4. What great questions! Remember, the same questions you ask yourself, your readers will ask themselves, and the answers you avoid, the readers will keep wondering about. Good stuff! Popping in to say HI! And I can’t find you on Goodreads! :p

    • Darn nosy readers! Who feeds this insatiable curiosity of yours?! …We the writers, you say? Ah. Well, in that case, bon apetit!

      Hi-i-i, J.P.! There’s a reason you can’t find me on Goodreads: I’m not signed up. I’ll probably get with it, some day in the not-so-distant future, but for now, I feel I’ve got enough online accounts to manage.
      Jolly good to hear from you!

  5. It’s so hard to keep that internal preteen inside from going, “what about the other kids?” I perpetually remind myself I can’t look over my shoulder for those people that aren’t there watching me…yet. I’ll wait until I have an audience before I give them much credence.

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