Wednesday, June 05, 2013

What Do You Offer Your Readers?

As a writer, I've often wondered what do I offer my readers?

Some authors write lofty volumes of prose, poetic and soothing to the ears. Some keep their readers spellbound with intrigue or humor. Some carefully perfect the craft of curling the hair on our neck as we quickly turn the page to discover where the killer hid the body. Writers who transport us to exotic places, and hold us there; writers who punctuate their characters, and pierce the heart of the reader deserve to be noticed. Every once in a while, you run across a writer who can do all of the above. It's rare, but it happens.

Think about it. Is there an author you have read recently, or years ago, who created characters and a plot that lingered for days. A story that comes to mind at the strangest times. A writer whose novels haunted you for weeks, years? A writer who consistently moves you like few others? What in their voice gives them the edge? What common thread weaves their unforgettable stories to the cloak of your memory? How do they do it?

Besides constantly polishing your craft, I’m finding there’s another element to this writing thing we do.

How do you share knowledge, life experiences, and enlightenments within the context of a story? How do you make it matter to your readers?

Are you able to bring your heartbreak to the page? The pain of loss, rejection, abandonment, can you write about it? Can you pull from your most horrific memories, as well as your most joyous? What I’m talking about has nothing to do with your writing degree or your awards. Although commendable, that's not it. I’m asking what do you--as a living, breathing, human being--bring to the page?

This quote is from one of my favorite writers. Dorothy Allison’s words at the Maui Writer’s Conference were delivered with fire and fervency.

She said, “I’m here to deliver black coffee, I’m here to leaven your experience. I’m here to tell you part of why I’m a writer is that it’s one of the professions where you can be a fat girl and make it! … Writers come to the page for many, many reasons. In fact, many of us DO come in the hope of justice, we DO come in the hope of balance, we DO come with an agenda of love, but I’m TELLING YOU NOW, lots of us start with a desire for genuine REVENGE.”

So. Does there has to be some deep, dark reason why we write?

Many write for the fun of it. But once again, in my honest and humble opinion, the writing that lasts for generations is gathered from the cobwebbed corners of your mind. Those basements and attics where most writers fear to tread but go anyway.

What if you write humor?

Ah, yes.  Well, dissect that humor. Much of our humor comes from pain. We're going to laugh about this later. Laughter through tears is a powerful emotion. Many believe the angrier you are, the funnier you need to be. Take that to the page.

Do we, then, write only what we know?

Not just what you know, but what you feel. What you've seen. The gut-wrenching moments in your life that cut deep into your heart. Write about that. Write about the scars. Who gave them to you, and how you healed, or how you still suffer from those scars. Give your character a piece of your life story that you want to share with the world. Dig out the best and worst of your memories, and include them in your stories. Write not just what you know, but what matters. What has brought you out of a deep, dark spot? What makes you uncomfortable? Write your passions, your desires, and what moves you. Write that.

Those are the guts of a good story. Bring that to the page. Offer that to your readers.

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