by Rel Mollet
While most readers are not writers, most writers are readers, or at least they should be if they are pursuing their chosen career effectively. Over the years of working with novelists, discussing book preferences, and talking about stories with readers, bloggers, and writers, it has become clear to me that the reading experience often differs between people who are reader/writers as opposed to those of us who only read.
The lovely Dorothy Adamek mentioned to me, after one of our Book Club meetings, that it was valuable for her to hear the way readers discussed books, and how surprised she was over the things that were not important to readers, things that as a writer she thought might have been.
So, here's my view, for what it's worth, on what readers like me (not every reader, I know) are looking for in their stories.
Readers love character engagement - they want to become invested in the protagonist's life. To connect, by way of common ground or common interest, in what the character is feeling, seeing, experiencing. Nothing will draw a reader in more quickly than a character who touches a chord in their own life - the heroine who feels alone and isolated, the hero who has a weakness that he is trying to overcome, the child who longs for their mother to pay attention, the woman who relies on her best friend to tell her the truth.
Readers love a setting they can see, taste, or smell. Descriptive words that enhance without falling into clichés, word pictures that evoke the atmosphere of places they have been or only imagined. They want to be transported to medieval Italy, World War II France, or the streets of Melbourne, by the clever use of words.
Readers love stories that evoke an emotional response. If we're reading a suspense novel, we expect our heart rates to rise. If it's a romance, then we want to have sigh-worthy moments when we actually sigh aloud. A heartbreaking story needs to cause tears to form and a comedy needs to have us hiding our laughter from other commuters on the train!
Readers love authenticity. Realistic characters, genuine relationships, accurate descriptions. While the stories may not be real, we readers want reality in our novels. Rich guy meets poor and beautiful girl? Sorry, so over it! Flawless characters? Not interested. Everything tied up with a neat bow? Please, no! Be real with your readers - most will appreciate the bumpy roads, the poor choices, and the consequences that result. Life is messy - let's not pretend differently.
Generally speaking (yes, I know there are readers out there who think they are experts at writing, having never put pen to paper), readers are not so concerned about the technical details - was the right tense used, could another word have supplied, did the author tell rather than show? Now, don't get me wrong. These things can jerk readers out of the story but we are a forgiving lot if the author has managed to tick the boxes of the four things mentioned above - stellar characters, evocative writing, the ability to generate a physical response, and authenticity. As Dorothy said to me, "Readers don't care for mechanical super tricks if the story works." She is so right!
Naturally, reader/writers have a tendency to read more critically, to identify where they could have written a paragraph better, would have never given the leading character that personality, or used a different plot twist altogether. Writers have difficulty turning off their internal editor. I get that. Be sure you are writing novels that readers will love - not just ones your crit partners agree have technical merit. I think there is value in having a "reader only" cast their eye over your manuscripts because they will have important feedback to give - feedback that you consider along with the feedback of your writer friends and critique partners, of course, yet remembering it is readers who you are ultimately wanting to satisfy and engage with your stories.
Rel Mollet founded her book-reviewing blog www.RelzReviewz.com in 2006, which is dedicated to showcasing Christian Fiction and its writers by way of reviews, author interviews, character spotlights, and more.
Rel is a contributing writer at NovelCrossing.com and FamilyFiction.com, and an Advisory Board member of the INSPY Awards. A book club co-ordinator for over a decade, Rel resides in Melbourne with her family.