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Author Topic: The Reader-Writer Relationship  (Read 1692 times)
Quinn Yellowfox
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« on: January 02, 2010, 10:07:25 PM »

There is a symbiosis between readers and writers. Without readers, writers have no purpose. Without writers, there would be no readers. The purpose of a writer is to satisfy the insatiable whims of readers. We need each other.

Writers start as readers. The addiction drives us to create our own stories. Characters come alive in our heads and compel us to give them voices. In a sense, writers are readers who suffer from a benign form of...schizophrenia for lack of a better word. I frequently have conversations with characters and they often tell me about themselves, their relationships and their part in the story.

Making characters as real to the reader as they are to the writer requires craft. Writers have a very hard time knowing when their craft is successful. We frequently bend the rules in order to "try something new." Often, the effect is appreciated by friends, family and fans, regardless of how it will effect an unbiased reader. Objective critique from a reader is extremely valuable. Unfortunately, there is no training program for readers short of college literature classes.

So what does a reader need to know about writing in order to be helpful to an author?

A writer needs honest feedback on how a story affected the the reader. Any feedback is helpful. Simply telling the writer that you liked a story is a big boost, but there is more you can do. Telling a writer what did or didn't work is incredibly important. Some writers will be more sensitive to critique than others. Most will be truly grateful for unvarnished feedback.

If a story really appealed to you, it is very important to tell the writer why. The more specific you can be, the better.

The title of a piece is the first part of a story that the reader encounters. The title is what piques the readers interest. It is a lure to make you start reading. A great story may never be read if the title doesn't work. Think about why you decide to read a story. Normally it's because something in the title spoke to you. If you read a story only because of the subject matter or the author, you may still find excellent stories. Let the author know if you think a title doesn't work. If a writer wants to be published, a bad title can ruin their chances.

The second most important part of a story are the first sentence and the following paragraphs. If the opening paragraphs don't grip you, let the writer know as well. Look at the first sentence of great stories and novels. They all have a big impact and some have even become cliches. "It was the best or times, it was the worst of times." "Call me Ismael." If after three paragraphs, you find yourself scanning the story to get to the action, the writer has failed to set a good hook. The action should be the climax of the story but getting there should be engaging.

Do you find dull cliches in the story? There are several common ones. The ones I see most are starting a story with a character waking up and thinking. Another is a character looking into the mirror to admire himself in order to tell the reader what they look like. Internal dialogue or thinking in order to tell the reader the back story, especially when it ends with "...he thought to himself" is another cliche. I've made all of these mistakes myself. As a writer, I thought it was brilliant. It's usually very boring.

Part of the joy of reading is co-creating the story with the writer. That's why good books seldom make good movies. There are exceptions but if you doubt me, read Frank Herbert's Dune, then try to watch the movie. Every reader creates some of the world and makes it their own. The movie looks wrong. The characters aren't the same as in your head. The world is wrong. This is where showing and telling come into play.

Writers love to tell each other "Show, don't tell." as if it is a magic recipe. New writers tend to tell too much and show too little. Experience usually makes writers tell too little and show too much. As a writer, it's impossible to say where the balance lies. It takes a reader to show the writer if the balance is right.

Some writers tell almost to excess, but are very good at it. Two that come to mind for me are Tom Clancy and Stephen King. They show that telling isn't all bad. In fact, it's because they tell so much that their books usually make good movies.

The difference between telling and showing is difficult to explain, but easy to illustrate. Essentially, if the reader has to stop and think about a characters action, then it's invasive telling.

For instance "Ginny invited Jack to sit with her." If you know that Ginny is fighting for custody of her baby and Jack is her elderly lawyer, that might be fine. Their relationship is established, so too much detail might be boring wordiness--invasive showing. On the other hand, if this is their first meeting, then you may sense something is missing or vague. You may stop and think, "How did she invite him?" Did she bite her lip before waving? Maybe she stood and yelled? Did she kick a chair away from the table and point to it while talking on her cell? You don't have enough information to see Ginny. In this case, the writer is telling and not showing enough.

Essentially, both telling and showing are tools. It usually takes a good reader to help a writer find the right balance.

A story can be told with very few words and be strong. If you feel like the writer is excessively verbose, that is important to point out. You might notice that you get sleepy or loose track of the story from time to time as a result. Hemmingway is credited for writing the shortest story ever. It's only 6 words. "Baby shoes for sale. Never used." Those few words make a reader create a family who wants a baby. The mother, father and baby are implied. That the shoes were never used shows tragedy. It makes me wonder why not keep them for future use. Did the mother die too? A longer story isn't always a better story.

Writers rely on readers to hone their skills. Please take some time to review the stories you read, even if you don't like them. Your input may help a writer achieve the dream of being published.

« Last Edit: January 02, 2010, 10:43:25 PM by Quinn Yellowfox » Logged

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Vargr
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« Reply #1 on: January 02, 2010, 10:33:32 PM »

Here here!

In addition to providing a source of quality anthropomorphic writing for avid readers, a key element of FurRag is the goal of improving the skills and craft of those writing the stories. That's something which can't be done in a vacuum. 

This wuff would like to challenge every reader to this; if a story made you think or feel, surprised you, made you laugh or weep, made you yiffy or startled you, please let the author know! If it displeased or offended, we need to know that as well.

We're not looking for heavy technical review of the elements of structure or grammar, detailed analysis of plot, or "editor in chief" dissection of technique (though few of those truly interested in self-improvement would turn any of that down if it were offered). If you have the time and skills to provide something like that, please feel free to do so!

But many readers may not feel up to that level of challenge. Instead, what we need is simple, honest feedback with at least one or two specifics about what you did or didn't like in a story. 

Those specifics are the real key here!  While "Great work!" and "That's a good read!" are very bolstering to an author, please give us a bit more fodder to chew on.  Just a single line, like, "I really loved your descriptions of the world around the characters.", or, "You showed us a great city, but you took too long describing their home and neighborhood before the action began. However, once it got moving, it really took off!"

Those kinds of input don't need any sort of degree in English or practice in writing to provide, yet they still give the author key insights into their craft and other folks' views of their story.

There's a lot of great reading material on this site. Please, dear readers, help the authors here to continue providing more, and better, by your feedback.
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Altivo
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« Reply #2 on: January 02, 2010, 11:26:46 PM »

(I like that new avatar image, Vargr.)

Well explained both of you. In the five or so years that I've been posting and reading on FurRag, this has always been a weakness. We seem to have many readers, judging by the statistics the site records, yet very few reviews or even star ratings. Don't hesitate to use the star rating. I think folks may miss it because the way to get to it is to click the "review" button. Once you do that, you can either write a review or comment, or rate the piece from one to five stars. (Or both, if you wish.) Simple star ratings are also helpful to both the author and to other readers, so please go ahead and use them.
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« Reply #3 on: January 03, 2010, 01:25:42 AM »

(I like that new avatar image, Vargr.)

Thank you, 'Tivo! It was a gift from Fraggle (or Phraggle, depending on the site), part of a larger picture of Vargr on a snowy hillside in the winter. You can see the whole picture here: http://phraggle.deviantart.com/art/Blizzard-Wolf-141961249    Needless to say, Vargr was absolutely delighted to see it! *grins*

Quote
Well explained both of you. In the five or so years that I've been posting and reading on FurRag, this has always been a weakness. We seem to have many readers, judging by the statistics the site records, yet very few reviews or even star ratings. Don't hesitate to use the star rating. I think folks may miss it because the way to get to it is to click the "review" button. Once you do that, you can either write a review or comment, or rate the piece from one to five stars. (Or both, if you wish.) Simple star ratings are also helpful to both the author and to other readers, so please go ahead and use them.

A quick note on the rating system:  Though there are up to 5 stars, the rating actually goes from 1 to 10. Even numbers (2, 4, 6, etc) award a full star, and odd number give a half star. So, to award a rating of 5 would actually display 2 and 1/2 stars. 

As Altivo mentioned, the ratings are found under the "review" function. But you don't have to add any text there. You can award a rating without any comment (wuffy wishes you'd say something, though), or you can comment without awarding a rating. Your choice! Smiley
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We are not old, so long as we continue to chase our dreams.
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