There are those writers who claim that they never think about the reader as they are writing. They want to tell a good story, and thus, they don’t want to cloud their thinking with extraneous details or distractions.
These writers fear that, if they think about the audience, the story will somehow be altered. These writers believe that including the reader in the writing process is like including an editor; that thinking about the reader will cause the writer to limit him or herself in telling the story the way it should be told.
There are those writers who claim that the reader is first and foremost in their thoughts. Each story they write comes from the potential perspective of someone who may pick up a finished story these writers have created, and these writers want to be certain that that reader feels welcomed and included.
They believe that the reader is paramount to the writing process; that the reader is the purpose for creating the story and therefore must be given consideration as the story is created.
Then there are those writers who fall somewhere in between on this spectrum.
Some stories need to be spilled out without thinking about anything other than the integrity of the story, while others need to thoroughly consider who the reader is and how the story will be read and interpreted.
What is the role of the reader in writing? It all depends.
Yeah, I know – What kind of answer is that?
The role of the reader depends on a variety of factors. For example, what type of writing is this? I tell my college students that, before they ever begin an essay, they need to think about the audience for whom they are writing. I encourage them to consider what type of information this reader can reasonably be expected to know. It’s frustrating to read articles or papers (or stories, too) that seem as if the writer was trying to impress the reader with a vocabulary that exceeds PhD thesis standards, or that feel as though the writer was condescending to the reader.
When I talk to my ICL students about this, I tell them that they need to think in terms of not only the age of the reader – which will have a significant bearing on their choice of vocabulary – but also the sophistication of that reader – which means thinking about concepts and experiences that kids of this age group may or may not have had exposure to.
Writers of all kinds have to stop and think about the reader at some point in the writing process. Eventually, if you’ve written a book, a story, a poem, you put it into a format for others to see, so you must have intended it for an audience? If you print it off of your computer, if you turned it in as an assignment, if you mailed it off to an editor, or if you posted it on a blog, your ultimate purpose was to say something to someone else. You intentionally brought it into the world for other eyes to come upon it. You wrote with the idea of having a reader. It’s a wee bit contradictory to say “I write this for myself” when you post something to a blog. While that may sound very noble and literary, it’s a lie. When I write something for myself, it goes in a journal that is kept in a location that not even my own family members are aware of. To put my writing in another location means I want someone to see it.
So how much involvement do we allow the reader during the writing process? Like I said before: it all depends.
It depends on who your reader is.
If you’re writing for very young children who are just grasping the reins of independent reading, you have to think very carefully about them.
Each word you choose, the structure of each sentence, the concepts you create in your story must all be considered carefully. If you are writing for a middle grade audience, these issues aren’t as important; however, the subject matter may be.
Are you introducing concepts that eight-year-olds are ready for? Will your subject matter bore a 12-year-old? Do you risk being called pedantic or do you risk being chastised for overstepping boundaries of taste and appropriateness?
If you are writing for teens, are you giving them something original, or is this something they’ve seen before in a better format? Are you preaching? Are you condescending? Do they really need another vampire/romance/Romeo & Juliet knock-off?
Considering the reader can also depend on your own style of writing.
Do you need to belch out an entire story first and then go through it with a more discerning eye? Do you hold up your own progress by thinking too much about outside issues, or do you effectively revise as you progress through a piece? Your own approach to the process has much to do with where the reader falls in your consideration. For those writers who need to get a story out of their system first, trying to incorporate the reader into that initial part of the process would be disastrous. However, many writers couldn’t get the story written without first thinking about whom they were addressing.
The point is not to say that you must consider the reader at a given point in the process, but more importantly, that the writer must at some point acknowledge there will be a reader and that this reader deserves some bit of acknowledgement. Where your writing process falls on that contiuum isn’t as crucial. Attention must be paid to the reader. That’s ultimately what you’re writing for, isn’t it?