Make the reader an equal partner

I once blogged about “the writer’s dance” which is the partnership between writer and reader, one leads, the other follows but both are needed equally to dance. Best Selling Author Anita Shreve told “The Writer” magazine author Hillary Casavant in her April 2014 article “You have to make the reader an equal partner”, quoting advice from novelist John Gardner.
She explained how in her book “Stella Bain” , which took her 3 years to write and nine drafts, she changed the point of view, tense and location. She had written the first draft in first person from the perspective of the title character, but after a while she realized that the story needed other key pieces of information from the main character’s own past to be withheld, which could not be done using that viewpoint.
When writing the story, the writer must always keep the reader in mind. What pieces of information would be too much of a give away- ruining the surprise, what pieces must be furnished bit by bit. What should the writer allow the reader to see at different points of the story. What will please and excite the reader most?
“Most of writing is problem solving”, says Shreve, ” a challenge to tell the individual pieces of a story in an authentic way and allow the reader to instinctively know what’s happening through a gradual unveiling of detail.” Her story Stella Bain, she describes as a “mosaic, a collection of hazy moments that clarify for the reader as the story progresses.”
In Vanessa Diffenbaugh’s “The Language of Flowers” we see young Victoria Jones progress through a bunch of troublesome experiences, each one providing us with a sneak peak at some horrible incident from her past and it allows us to feel her pain yet wonder what is causing it. We can not stop reading until we find out what picture those hazy moments come together to paint. The writer takes us from the first “connect” the dot point to the end, knowing when to allow us to enter a scene and when to shut us out, until we reach the final scene and the picture is complete.
Just as we learn about people and their pasts in our own lives, brick by brick as we build the foundations of relationships and ultimately come to conclusions about why our neighbor is afraid to fly, or why our co-worker keeps getting divorced or why our partner can’t be a good parent to our children, we must imitate this in our work. Unravel your story slowly while building suspense so that the reader is permitted to come to know the characters while sympathizing with them all the while. Then when the reader enters that final scene she not only has come to know the character she routed for, but she has become her, if only for the moments of her reading journey. You as the writer will have perfected the dance and ultimately have made her an equal partner and she will be forever grateful.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s