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David Farland's Writing Tips: Your Better Half

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A quick judgment.

A few years ago, I happened to meet a writer at a convention who had produced half a dozen novels. I’d seen her work on a display table. Her books were self-published and full of misspellings and grammatical errors. I wasn’t impressed.

As I was chatting with her, a young lady came up, introduced herself, and said, “You’re my favorite author in the world!” Then a teenage boy came up a moment later and told how one of her books had changed his life. Then a mom came up and begged her to sign copies for her kids, who were all big fans.

That taught me something. In fact, it taught me a lot of things. First of all, your grammar and spelling may be important to editors, but for many fans, those elements aren’t very important at all. 

The settings you create, the characters you bring to life, the stories you imagine into existence—those are important!

Most readers don’t care if you can do stylistic handsprings. What they want is story that grabs them, holds them, and moves them.

Your story is more than more than your imagination. 

You see, you and your writing are only half of the equation. You create a new reality in your tale. You use your imagination, your talent and hard-won skills, but then a reader comes along and brings the other half of the equation.

The reader provides his or her own imagination and life experience as they follow your story. If they’re highly visual, they might “see” the story better than you do. That’s why we hire illustrators to design the covers.

It the reader hears better than you do, they may supply nuances of tone and character voice that you couldn’t possibly capture.

If they’re passionate, the reader may “feel” the story more deeply. I recall one woman who stopped me in a grocery store years ago to thank me for a story that I’d written. With copious tears streaming down both sides of her face, she explained how deeply it had touched her, and she sobbed so badly, I frankly worried that we’d have to send her home in an ambulance.

In short, it is possible for a fan to “read” a much better story than you can “write.” The reader brings his or her own experience and inventions to a tale, and thus in every case, a tale is richer and more nuanced than you imagine.

Of course, not all readers will connect well with you. Your worldview may not fit with theirs; your word choices might seem strange and hard to understand; your tastes might seem off or outlandish. Since some people won’t be able to connect with you easily, you may have to struggle to learn how to connect.

Our job then, is to anticipate the reader’s needs, wants, and tastes to the best of our ability. We need to imagineer a story—provide nuances, depth and surprises to a tale—that will excite the reader’s imagination.

You’ve heard me say that “My wife is my better half.” In a storytelling partnership, you always need to respect your reader, and treat them as if they are your better half.



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That is so good to remember. Not that it's wise to publish without getting polished since it will affect the enjoyment of many, but to keep the "theater of the mind" always before us. It's both an added element to be aware of but a blessing because the burden doesn't lie only with us. We just suggest and let our reader bring themselves to the table.

I like how he pointed out some are more visual, others verbal, and even emotive. What a fun way to think abou it!

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Years ago I was in Bolivia working with a church there. I met a man who lived there in a small village. I don't remember which US state he was from, but his Spanish was atrocious. His verbs never matched his subjects. He spoke mostly in nouns and illogical forms of verbs.


But he kept the electricity running in his village. When he went to La Paz to a computer store, he and the computer tech communicated. I happened to be with him, and I cringed every time he opened his mouth. The computer tech did not seem to notice.


Back in his village, the teens gathered at his house every evening to talk about Jesus. They wouldn't have been there if he were not communicating something to them.


But ... our grammar should be good. Our spelling should be correct. Not necessarily for an editor, but for the readers who do notice and won't pick up the book after they have glanced at the first page. They, too, need our message.

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  • 2 weeks later...
On 12/19/2020 at 7:07 PM, Celebrianne said:

"theater of the mind"

That is a powerful phrase! I would prefer not to describe my characters too fully because I want the reader to supply the details from their own experience. It is a delicate line to tread.

On 12/20/2020 at 2:17 PM, carolinamtne said:

They wouldn't have been there if he were not communicating something to them.

The fact that he was willing to look foolish might have won them to the gospel!  Thank you for that story! 

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