Today’s tip for awesome writing: always presume the intelligence of the reader.
Reader-centric writing can help your narrative in three palpable ways. It gives a name to your reader. It makes you stretch a little farther to see what your audience sees. And it hones your writing skills. Let me show you what I mean.
- Picture your audience. When you write for yourself, you are living inside your head. I find the dialogue is always perfect up there, where I control it. Trouble is, others don’t always catch my quirky humor. In real life, your line of logic can get seriously upended by the person you’re talking to.
The art of communicating is in reaching the other side with your message intact. If you’ve been gazing into the bathroom mirror lately, talking to yourself, I’m guessing it’s because you are rehearsing something that needs to be said … to your best friend or your boyfriend or your boss. That’s half the battle. You need to know what you want to say, what it is that drives you. But not unlike prime-time drama, the soapbox tirade can be agonizingly dull for the hearer. My point? Clearing out the clutter in your brain does not always guarantee a rapt audience. So get it out. By all means. But don’t stop there. This is what our noble profession calls throwing up on the page.
2. Let it go. Once you’ve said what you need to say and your heartbeat has returned to normal, go back and find the nugget that makes this message hum. The universal truth behind the experience will ultimately move your reader along the same trajectory. This is what we call an epic theme. In a nutshell, can the problem be reduced to (wo)man against her(him)self, against nature, against others?
When I learned to play tennis all those years ago, there came a time when it was no longer about getting the ball over the net. One day, with that skill under belt, it was finally about placing the ball exactly where I wanted it to go. So it is when you zero in on the theme of your dialogue. You have reached a new level, where you can begin to think strategically about when you want to reveal this nugget to the reader.
Letting go will bring resonant meaning to what remains. The bad news is that most of what you just drafted is kitty litter. But the good news is that a critical assessment of your writing will remove a lot of impurities, leaving an ingot of pure, gleaming gold in its place. I release my white knuckle hold on a sentence I thought would win me the Pulitzer. I scatter to the wind my best metaphor. But in the process, I catch a startling amount of repetition that leaves in its wake a simpler, more meaningful piece. I surrender kitsch phrases and stale cliches, and I find my voice.
3. Finally, presume your reader’s intelligence. For me that means lighten up and let your audience connect the dots. No need to bog down your narrative with too much detail. Remember that Maytag washer man, who embodies the hard-working refrigerator? I love that stuff – it draws me in and makes me think. So tease your audience and make them work for it.
You have a voice like no other. Fine tune that instrument, and you’ll find that fans are standing in line to hear you sing.