This post is a guest blog entry for The Big Thrill’s Thriller Roundtable (Oct 23-29)
WHICH COMES FIRST, THE READER OR THE STORY?
In a word, both. This is not a cop-out. I start with a story in mind that I suspect readers like me would like to experience. I want readers to be as engaged with the story as I am in writing it. That informs style, voice, tone, character development, plot (did I miss anything?). The reader and the story share the driver’s seat. Sometimes the story is taking the reader for a ride; sometimes the reader has a stronger grip on the wheel.
This is a tough question. It’s more complex than it seems. With my latest novel, Desert Remains, I came up with the basic concept for the story in a brainstorming session attended by imaginary readers, my muse, and occasionally my spouse. I can’t speak for other authors. I only know my process. The story and the reader are inextricably tied. Perhaps this comes from my work as a journalist, particularly in my days as a special projects reporter, away from the hamster wheel of breaking news. As a special projects reporter, I had to really consider audience sensibility when enterprising/pitching stories. My work had to reach people. I had to know them. I had to understand what they cared about and why. And yet, my stories were not completely audience-driven. I had to inject my own journalistic authority, ultimately, to determine if a story was worthy of the time and effort required. I also had to know that the story would come from the heart.
The heart always matters. Whether the heart feels dark or light, the work must come from a place of love. If you don’t love your story, it’s unlikely your readers will love it. If you don’t love writing your story, your lack of heart will find its way into the finished manuscript.
The follow-ups to Desert Remains are following a similar process. Readers. Muse. Spouse. The only difference is that I now have core characters who show up for the brainstorming session. So I need a bigger room. And more doughnuts.