Writing is a solitary quest. It suits me. Even though I’m an extrovert, I also love escaping into the realms of my imagination. My children have even accused me at times of being glassy-eyed, non-receptive to the world around me. Guilty, as charged. That mostly occurred when I was writing a Harlequin-style romance in the ’90s and would routinely whisk myself away to the world of Cayne and Marc on the Caribbean island of Tobago.
Your Heart Will Be Mine. Draft writing, copy-editing, proof reading—I kept donning different hats for the stages of that book’s development. Self-consciousness kept me from sharing my work with friends or family, even professional editors. That finally changed with the writing of Alyda’s Bluff. Enter first readers—or ideal readers, as the book-writing industry so aptly calls them.
My ideal readers were all family members and friends. They were keen readers of fiction who offered to read my drafts, and I knew I could trust their insights. Writers have fragile psyches, and I suspected my readers would treat me kindly in the initial stages of the novel’s creation. They did. They handled me with kid gloves at first and then they “amped up” their observations and criticisms. They were slick, they were subtle, and with time they showed no mercy.
Here are some examples of my ideal reader/author exchanges:
Perceptive sister: There’s too much extraneous background material. It keeps you from getting to “the meat” of the story.
Me (to myself): Really? Nobody wants to know about middling character X’s father, who sustained a crushed toe while moving a refrigerator on the Ides of March, the exact day on which character X entered this world? I’m exaggerating here, but my sister was right. In her gentle way she informed me that unnecessary = boring.
Discerning sister: Some of the similes and metaphors—they’re over the top.
Me: What? You have a hard time with Mr. Sweeney’s few coarse dark hairs reminding the narrator of “charred, fragile tree trunks in a post forest-fire landscape”? She was right, of course. That description comes from a burned tract of forest I once saw on a road trip through the Rockies. I had no business transporting that image to the top of an old man’s head!
Insightful daughter: You’re holding back on the romance between Alyda and Caleb. The reader will want more passion, more commitment on Alyda’s part.
Me: Okay, but this will be tricky. Alyda is a product of the late Victorian area. And I refuse to make any new incursions into Harlequin territory. Still, my daughter was right. Back to the relevant scenes I went, allowing Alyda to express her passion more freely. I’ll admit it was fun. The romance segment of my writing brain hadn’t been completely exorcised.
Finally, ideal readers, thank you for forcing me to dig more deeply into character motivation. A writer may have descriptive settings, compelling characters and a convincing plot, but all of these positives will be undermined or destroyed if the reader doesn’t ultimately understand why someone is behaving the way s/he does.
That old romance novel, Your Heart Will Be Mine, is collecting dust in a drawer. I’ve thought of resurrecting it at times, but I’m pretty sure that Cayne and Marc will stay trapped in an old floppy disk for time immemorial. Alyda and Caleb muscled their way into my imagination. I hope they will do the same to yours.
And now, dear readers of the print edition of Alyda’s Bluff, you have the final word.