Callie Hunter

The Story You Want To Write vs. The Story People Want To Read

I’m sure we all share the same problem. Sometimes what we write just doesn’t appeal to some readers. And what do we do? We can’t please everything but is there a solution to balancing what we want to write, with what some readers want to read. I’ll address each problem I face personally, and I’d love to hear if anyone else has the same problem.

LACK OF ‘ACTION’

I cannot write fantasy, or sci-fi or big explosive fight scenes. Why is that? Because I don’t necessarily read it. I have read Harry Potter and yes I loved it, but not because of the genre, because of the story. There are some people that admire Tolkien or only want to have action scenes or explosions, or something like that.

It would not be good for me to write a genre I can’t really appreciate. I pick stories based on the themes and the story. I picked up a paranormal drama because I enjoyed the blurb and it was a good read. If I judged it by the genre, I may have dismissed it. Though I must admit that the reader was not my ideal reader, but it was sad hearing them say that they didn’t like it because ‘nothing happened’.

The story in question isn’t about the action, isn’t about explosions but how the characters deal with it. May I bring your attention to this review, which is from my ideal reader.

A serious, yet entertaining short story. It’s simple and there aren’t any ‘breaking news’ events taking place, and somehow that’s a really good thing. This book is about life, and real life at that. That’s why I really enjoyed every page. It’s hard to explain, but the way this story is written made me feel strangely at peace with myself

And back on point. Things may not ‘happen’ in this story, but the focus is how the characters deal with everything. This is the main point of the story, how the characters handle the new revelations and the family dynamics.

SWEARING

 I know some people who don’t like swearing and have told me before, but I stand by my argument that if my characters swear, I won’t change it. As I write, my characters naturally build themselves up to become something I could never have planned.

If my character don’t naturally swear, I won’t put the words in their mouths. There are some characters like Sean from Tiptoe that naturally swear. His point of view wouldn’t be as authentic, as realistic if he didn’t. If I limit my characters in the creative process, then they will fall flat. The biggest killer for me in books are characters that fall flat, and characters that I cannot relate to. There is always something extra in the way characters are built.

With regards to Disenchanted, Sara doesn’t like swearing. Had I made her swear, she would fall flat. If I removed Sean’s swearing, then he would fall flat. It’s a tricky subject and I was been nervous about this for a while. I remember reading something about swearing in Stephen King’s On Writing which basically says

… if you’re a writer and you change the way characters talk out of fear for the morality police, you’re breaking the first rule of writing and that is to be honest.

This is the main reason I refuse to change my writing for those readers. If said person says ‘I can’t read this because I don’t like swearing’ then so be it. My work may not appeal to everyone. My work may put people off – but at the end of the day, just because you don’t like swearing doesn’t mean people don’t do it. Why should I limit my work, be dissatisfied with it, for one readers opinion? You can’t please everyone but the most important people to please is yourself.

THEMES

This is no surprise. I like themes that challenge me as a writer, a reader, and a person. If I don’t challenge my characters and myself then I am failing, in my opinion.

Tiptoe focuses on domestic violence and the question of emotional vs physical affair.  People don’t always understand the reality of domestic violence whether it’s emotional or physical. While I may not have been physically abused, I am familiar with the mentality that comes with people in this situation. When I wrote the story, I connected with Addison to focus on those emotions that are often ignored. Yes, it’s easy to say ‘just leave’ but what if you can’t? A person’s response varies per example.

Like Addison, I expect to be let down. I expect to be unappreciated. I work hard in everything that I do and there will always be somebody ready to put you down. What can you do? You either walk away or you stay. Sometimes you know something is wrong and you should walk away, but you can’t. Why? Because sometimes being alone is worse than being unhappy in love. Sometimes we’ve so used to being treated badly that we expect it. You never know the full story until you’ve truly experienced it. Even if it’s not in real life, and through fiction, it’s important for me to focus on these things.

I am interested in these story lines because it tests me as a person, and a writer. I always put myself in difficult situations with my characters because it’s the only way we learn. I write the stories I’d like to read. I’ve learned a lot through my characters and whether conscious or not, I put a lot of myself into my characters.

If I’m not honest with my work, how can I expect anyone else to understand, relate or enjoy my stories? This, I feel is the most important rule that every writer should follow. Ignore the standard ‘rules’ some people shove down your throat. The main one? Be honest in your work.

What problems have you faced as writers or readers? What things have you read in people’s work that you didn’t like? Share your experiences with me!

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This entry was published on November 23, 2013 at 11:01 pm. It’s filed under Uncategorized and tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink. Follow any comments here with the RSS feed for this post.

6 thoughts on “The Story You Want To Write vs. The Story People Want To Read

  1. Thanks for linking to me. 🙂

    I agree, when it comes to writing you have to please yourself first. If I try to write something I don’t like it takes longer and doesn’t turn out as well. Don’t compromise your writing for something you think people want to read.

  2. I never really consider the reader. I tried for a while and it just made my prose terrible. My previous novel is 100% me and I feel more confident about it going somewhere than if I tried to tone down elements.

    One thing I feel you forgot is how graphic to make it. I have one scene involving a young woman who cuts her legs and is severely depressed. I don’t go into too much detail, but enough to make someone squirm a little. But for this type of writing I don’t think it’s about the readership or personal style, I think it’s the tone of the entire book.

    So I think there’s a third element that’s involved – tone. And tone in my opinion is dictated by the book as it develops. I’m currently reading Fifty Shades for some research and the use of swearing is woefully inconsistent and makes things awkward to read.

    • You make a very valid point. Tone and graphic scenes are very important. The scene you mention sounds like it will be very moving and that is key for the reader to associate with the character. In this instance, you made the right choice, Maybe it would make readers uncomfortable but it has purpose. Its not just there without purpose.

      There is one instance where I tone down a scene because I felt uncomfortable describing a pregnant woman being beaten, so I focused on the characters thoughts, what went through his head and what fuelled his anger rather than his actions. These things will either gain interest or repel readers and the trouble is finding that balance.

      At what point do we alienate our readers? On that note I have story I want to write but there isn’t really a happy point which puts me off writing the story to share, rather than to keep for myself. Have you ever experienced this?

      I’m one of the few who haven’t read it, though it didn’t appeal to me very much. Did the language not suit the characters? It’s important that authors know the characters limits and how far they can push their characters.

  3. Oh, yes. Kim Ki-Duk is the master of violence happening off screen yet it’s more traumatising than it happening on screen. It’s only shown if it has purpose (Bad Guy is a brilliant example of this.) Unless we write happy stories, romances that have no struggle or any sadness, somebody will always find a problem or pick on themes.

    Though I could never pull off 100% happy characters. Life is up and down, and nothing is perfect, so what is stories are sad, life is sad. I guess it’s this point where we say no the readers who want one thing, when we can’t provide it.

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