On Writing: Ideal Readers

“No two persons ever read the same book.”

–  Edmund Wilson


Hi there! I’m sorry about my inconsistencies this past week or two…busyness pays us all a visit at some point or another, and for me it’s not so much “when do I have time to blog?” as it is “when do I have the energy to write a post that isn’t awful?”

Well, I tried my best, readers. Here goes.

I’m rapidly finishing Stage Two of the revision process of my manuscript, and barreling towards Stage Three at lightning speed: reading the entire story aloud. Once that’s done, I’m done, at least for now. Will the manuscript be perfect? Of course not. But it’ll be about as close as I can get, at least for the time being.

But before I enter that stage—and of course, blog about it, as you no doubt suspected I would—I want to say a few words about the concept of an “ideal reader,” because it’s an interesting way of thinking that I think can apply to all writing in general.

I was first made aware of this concept from Stephen King’s book, On Writing, which I highly recommend. I now defer to Mr. King:

“Someone—I can’t remember who, for the life of me—once wrote that all novels are really letters aimed at one person. As it happens, I believe this. I think that every novelist has an ideal reader; that at various points during the composition of the story, the writer is thinking, ‘I wonder what they’ll think when they read this part?’”

He goes on to say:

“If you’re writing for anyone besides yourself, I’d advise you to pay very close attention to their opinion. You can’t let the whole world into your story, but you can let in the ones that matter most. And you should.”

“Call that one person your Ideal Reader. He or she is going to be in your writing room all the time: in the flesh once you open the door and let the world back in to shine on the bubble of your dream, in spirit during the days of the first draft, when the door is closed. This is perhaps the best way of all to make sure you stick to story, a way of playing to the audience even while there’s no audience there and you’re totally in charge.”

This is interesting to me. Back when I started writing my manuscript in eighth grade, I was writing strictly for myself. No one was to see it, no one was to know it existed…in fact, no one even knew I wrote at all for the first two years I did it. And the poor quality of my work reflected that isolation.

I believe now that other people push us to be better. Not just in writing, but in our lives in general. No, I’m not equating writing to all of life itself, though it isn’t the worst comparison in the world.

But let’s get back on track. Ideal Readers.

I think all writers have them. Even if they aren’t writing strictly for one person, or for specific people in general, then they’re at least writing for a certain kind of person. This is usually reflected by the genre, if it’s a novel.

I need to have an I.R. An Ideal Reader keeps me anchored while, at the same time, pushing me to be better. When I write a humorous line, I’m trying to make them laugh. When I write a fast-paced action scene, I’m focused on holding their attention. That’s what, I think, all storytellers do. Even if their Ideal Reader is someone in their own head.

And me? Who’s my Ideal Reader?

I have two, actually. My story is a YA Fantasy novel, aimed for thirteen year olds. I wrote it for two in particular, and they’re the two brightest thirteen year olds I’ve ever met.

No, I didn’t write it because of them, but they’re the reason it is what it is today. Not only do they have faith in the novel—even though they’ve never read the finished version—but they have faith in me. In the end, the story is theirs. I write for those two.

The reason I wanted to talk about Ideal Readers is because of what Stage Three of revision involves: reading the entire manuscript aloud. Everyone has their own way of doing this; I myself realized I can’t do it unless it’s for my two ideal readers. Will it happen? No, sadly. But this isn’t a perfect world, and writing isn’t a perfect art. There are other ways to meet the end goal, and I’ll find one.

So, those are my thoughts on Ideal Readers. Maybe everyone has one; maybe not. But in any case, I don’t think it’s possible to write beautifully if it’s only for yourself. I certainly can’t do it. In the end, we all need people to push us to be better.

I once read that “A lot of people have gone further than they thought they could because someone else thought they could.”

I’d like to believe that’s true.