As you write your novel, do you have in mind an ideal reader? Is this person your spouse? Boyfriend/girlfriend? The cute girl at the bookstore who doesn’t even know your name?
In any case, this is the person you imagine reading your work as you write–your target audience. As you finish that difficult passage or put in that unexpected plot twist, you might be thinking, “Boy, old so-and-so is going to flip when they read this!” Or maybe it’s more like: “They’re really going to hate this. Time for a rewrite!”
Either way, this person shapes your writing, gives it focus. Maybe they inspire you to push yourself further. They could be the reason you started writing in the first place.
Sounds pretty great, no? Well, I have a confession to make. I don’t have an ideal reader.
Nope, no ideal reader. Sure, I hope people like my novel, but more in a general sense. I’m not imagining any specific person as I write it. I just write for myself with a considerable dose of blind faith that if I like what I’ve written, others will like it, too.
Is this a huge mistake? Honestly, I don’t know.
I think as human beings we tend to be very self-focused. Basically no one is as interested in me as I am. It’s only natural. After all, I spend 100% of every day with myself. Everything I know or experience passes through the filter of my brain, giving my world a distinctive “me” flavor.
The vanity of an artist is thinking others will be equally interested in this flavor. Sometimes they’re right. I suspect more often they’re not.
With that in mind, does it make more sense to focus on an ideal reader? To step outside of yourself and imagine your work through someone else’s eyes? Maybe this allows us to broaden our appeal, to gain a certain perspective.
Then again, maybe it’s a form of pandering. I mean, if you really believe in the quality of your work, why should you care what anyone else thinks?
I ponder these questions as I begin the third draft of my novel. What do you think? Should I find my ideal reader?
I was twelve years old when I first started reading Stephen King novels. A pre-pubescent girl wouldn’t be considered an ideal reader for his stories; however, I became a life-long fan and I suppose I would now be considered an ideal reader.
I say flesh out your characters, tell a fine story, and don’t worry about the target audience. The “ideal reader” will discover your novel, whether it be next year or in twenty years.
It’s funny you mention Stephen King–he’s the one who suggested I should have an ideal reader in the first place! According to his book “On Writing”, his ideal reader is his wife, which makes perfect sense. I mean, if you’ve found your soul mate, it’s only natural you would have them in mind as you write, trying to make them laugh or scaring the heck out of them. I think an ideal reader is a pretty good idea, but only if you have the right person in your life.
For now I’ll probably do what you recommended and just keep writing for myself.
Thanks for the advice, I always appreciate your comments!