Live readers are rare for hermit writers

Hiker on beautiful mountaintop, looking toward a far horizon. Test: For perspective, talk to one of your readers. Alicia Butcher Ehrhardt

THERE’S A FIRST TIME FOR EVERYTHING

And over the last week, I’ve had an experience you would have thought had happened many times before: I had a conversation with a live reader. In person.

Two, in fact. Both at my new abode.

One woman, one man.

The fun part? They’re in the same walking group here (no, I am not in it), and have been talking about me. Or my book, which is highly correlated. I wish I could listen in!

Different perspectives from each of them

One liked it, and has no clue where it’s going, but has decided what cannot be allowed to happen. Huh.

The other liked it, and seemed to connect – and asked me how I made Andrew’s Irishness work. I told her: hours of listening to radio from County Galway, and piles of notes – and a very light hand.

That last bit, a light hand, is critical for so many things in writing.

Yes, there is a lot of research in a novel like mine.

Yes, there is an entire version of 2005/2006 where you’d swear (I hope) that this actually happened.

Yes, like many writers I’m writing about things I haven’t experienced in person, and places I may not have been.

But that’s my job, and my other job is not letting the reader see it.

It can’t be in the story. Readers can’t find themselves in the middle of exposition: the info dump.

That last part is important to me. I want a reader to acquire the story without having to work at it – and I seem to have succeeded reasonably well: I could tell by the questions of both that there were no rough edges they had cut themselves on. Phew!

As I explained, I have not allowed myself the luxury of having a character conveniently think – at a time he or she would never do it – some piece of information that the reader needs. You won’t necessarily get, while reading, what some of those pieces of thought  are for, but you should understand what triggered the thought, and file it away automatically, because. I will connect the dots for you later.

Structure

And I got to say a few words to my new friends about a subject dear to my heart: plotting.

Because fiction is not real life. Even in memoir writing, the memoirist has to be highly selective – space limitations. And pity for the boredom of a reader if given everything.

And fiction has a purpose – which real life has, but not in neat chunks.

I used my skyscraper metaphor: if you aim to build high, and expect people to be able to live in an aerie with a gorgeous view, you have to plan the plumbing from the ground up to the very top: water and waste management cannot be added where convenient, as you go. Those pipes gotta connect.

And how having a solid structure in place – knowing characters, plot, setting, and timeframe, and especially why – allows me, an extreme plotter, the freedom of figuring out how. And the fun.

Conclusion: my notes are useless

I thought I’d get a pile of reactions and write them down for pondering later – so I brought a notebook and four pens (believe it or not, the first three didn’t work).

And scribbled as we went.

And found out later that I had written nothing of value.

Because the interaction itself, the pleasure of being allowed to talk about my work (while being very conscious of what I looked for when homeschooling my kids: the glazed-over eyes), the pleasure of letting someone else talk about my work interfered with coherent note-taking.

As, on reflection, it should.

The hard parts

Not talking too much.

Not correcting a reader’s perception.

Not letting out clues about where a topic will lead.

Not telling what I’m eventually going to show.

Stopping.

And still not having the right to use my own mental energy to get back into the fray, because I have to be patient a bit longer, and get the basics of life tidied up (and new things keep coming along – that’s not going to stop)…

Soon. Very soon.


A nice extra: explaining in person how important review are.


And… it’s time for our wonderful organizer to be here.

Peace out.

Question for discussion: the in-person connection between writer and reader. It is rarer than you think. Have you had it?


PS The ebook of Pride’s Children: PURGATORY is on sale for $0.99 until I’m solidly back to writing. Encourage the writer.

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7 thoughts on “Live readers are rare for hermit writers

  1. Janna G. Noelle

    What a thrill for you to get to connect with readers! I long for that some day, mainly just hear their reactions in the flesh (I don’t really like discussing writing as a process itself with non-writers; there tends to be a preciousness to this that even makes me roll my eyes sometimes). I definitely agree with your thoughts about infodumping and author intrusion via convenient character thoughts. All things I’ve had to scrub from my WIP and will try my darnedest not to repeat in my next project.

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    1. Alicia Butcher Ehrhardt Post author

      It was a thrill, and I let them know I enjoyed it.

      So much to learn if you want to be good at writing. If all you want is to write, go ahead, and you can publish it if you like.

      But most beginners will repeat a LOT of avoidable mistakes, by which I mean things that will annoy a sophisticated reader, simply because they haven’t 1) yet become aware of these (infodump – you know the reader needs this information), 2) become skillful enough to put it in subtly.

      It doesn’t mean they’re not story-tellers.

      I wonder how much fantasy will survive the test of time as Tolkien’s has. Or Dune.

      I’ve discussed little bits of the writing process, but it’s more to show I’ve done the work, and thought about things the reader shouldn’t have to. Very few people write fiction – they don’t need to have me spewing how.

      I always ask: do you want to write fiction? Haven’t found anyone yet who does.

      As for having to scrub the WIP, you should see my rough draft of the whole PC story! Because I wanted to see if I could get from beginning to end via my methods, and whether it was even remotely believable.

      But I remember telling another patient in a hospital room while we were both recovering from surgery, late at night and unable to sleep, and she was mesmerized – she kept asking what happened next. I wish I’d gotten her name.

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  2. marianallen

    I have had the pleasure of connecting with readers, especially if you count online. But, since I do book events and conventions, some of them the same ones annually, I tend to meet people who bought one of my books previously. I haven’t had your wonderful experience of being able to sit down with them and hear a discussion, though. Well, in a way I have: I’ve taken works in progress to my writers group and had reactions chapter-by-chapter. I love that!

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    1. Alicia Butcher Ehrhardt Post author

      Ah, but in a discussion group the pleasure is adulterated: you have to listen (or you should) to other people’s work.

      I tried a writer’s group at my first teacher’s house, and realized I could barely write my own stuff, and that trying to keep in mind details from three other novels that changed weekly was more than my brain could manage. I was unable to commit, and have ended up being a solo artiste.

      Except for the times when I’ve requested a mentor’s help, such as when J.M. Ney-Grimm was so kind as to guide my graphics efforts, the process of getting a group’s input is too much. I wish I could, but I can’t, so I don’t…

      You are so lucky to be able to talk with people who’ve read one of your books and are coming back for more. That must feel so good.

      I really gotta finish book 2 so I can experience that.

      Liked by 1 person

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