At the start of chapter five in the book Reading Like a Writer, Prose says, “The truly problematic question is: Who is listening? On what occasion is the story being told, and why? Is the protagonist projecting this heartfelt confession out into the ozone, and, if so, what is the proper tone to assume when the ozone is one’s audience?”
These questions set my brain ablaze. I wondered: How often do I take the time to think about my potential reader when I sit down to write? Or do I just write? I hate to admit it but I’m fairly certain that more often than not I just write. Of course, there’s a point when I think about who might read my work but this revelation rarely comes with the inspiration to write. During that stage, I’m absorbed in the writing and, perhaps more so, in myself.
Then I thought, how often do we write without ever taking our audience into consideration? Do we write for ourselves and leave it to our potential readers to decide whether or not we’re speaking to them and how they feel, or don’t feel, about our words? Then why so we get sensitive or insulted when they don’t feel anything? Why do we take it so personally when we didn’t try to connect?
When I read the work of other writers, I rarely feel like they wrote for me or tried to connect to me specifically but, rather, I just happened to like or dislike whatever was written. Usually it feels more coincidental like, to use Prose airplane analogy, sitting down beside a complete stranger on an airplane and (instead of ignoring them) striking up a conversation and finding a new friend.
Every once in a while, in reading, like in life, a rare moment occurs when I truly feel the words were meant specifically for me as though it was (cliché alert) meant to be. What’s exceptional about those meant-to-be moments is that they feel magical. Don’t they? Whether they happen in life or in art, when we stumble upon that kind of deep connection, we feel satisfied and whole.
It seems to me that we, as writers, should strive to create more of those moments.
Who we are speaking to is at least equally if not more important that what we are saying. But let’s face it we don’t always get to pick our readers. We certainly cannot control what they like or dislike. But, still, when it comes to reading and writing it’s all about the connection. The words hardly matter if the person reading the words isn’t feeling them. Good writers don’t just write. They inspire emotion.
At the end of chapter five, Prose says, “What I hope I’ve managed to show is how much room there is, how much variation exists, how many possibilities there are to consider as we choose how to narrate our stories and novels. Deciding on a narrator’s identity, and personality, is an important step. But it’s only a step. What really matters is what happens after that—the language that the writer uses to interest and engage us in the vision and the version of events that we know as fiction.”
This paragraph not only summarizes Chapter 5 but it also summarizes what I’ve learned, so far, in my experience as a writer. All of the pieces are important but it’s the whole that is most important and even though no one topic will speak to everyone since we are each unique and so are our tastes and experiences, one thing we have in common is that we all feel. That said, writers should strive to provoke feeling and write so that the beauty and depth of our words and the artistry and passion in our sentences connects, engages and touches those who read them.
Frankly, I’m always on the edge of my seat when I read Prose Reading Like a Writer, the book is loaded with nail biting suspense. It is such a page turner. I’m already on my 7th read and with that is always a new adventure. She grabs you by the throat and doesn’t give you a chance to gasp for air. Stephen King once wrote of her, “I’ve never been jealous of another writer until now, Prose is a gifted and well versed writer in terror and suspense, we can all learn from this woman! She is a God!” I agree with King, I just can’t put the book down. I’m reading it write now as I type this comment and give her praise.
I believe misquoting King while in an MFA program will get you a one-way ticket to Hell.