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Tuesday 11 August 2020

Readers Lurk in Every Writer's Mind

Readers lurk in every writer’s mind. Some are wished-for readers who will fully appreciate what the writer is about. Some are stern critics, editors of style but also protectors of morals. Some are judges who remind the writer that not all can have prizes. One is likely to be your Mum or Dad.

The list continues and it is a brave writer who can claim that they wrote exactly what they wanted to write without a care about who might read and what they might think.

When Charlotte Brontë  has Jane Eyre declare Reader, I married him!  I assume that she expected a Bravo! from everyone, a tear from some, and a blessing from the vicar. She did not expect her readers to be appalled. So even if I married him! is more assertive than He married me! it is not as if Miss Brontë expected to scandalise early (1847) Victorian readers of expensive triple-decker novels. Some may have had reservations, but they bought the book and read it. That’s the main thing.

Nowadays, the creative writing magazines that I find in W H Smith constantly prep their readers with information about what readers want and what propriety demands. It is as if the only kind of writing they can imagine is cynical writing under the overarching banner of Give ‘em what they want.

So they might tell you (I simplify a bit) that Asperger’s is trending. The would-be successful first-time novelist then turns to Wikipedia and discovers what Asperger’s is, googles around for a few personal experiences, and stumbles on an articulate mother whose child has Asperger’s. At this point, the novelist decides that it will not be too much of a disruption of the plot if the main character of their novel-in-progress now acquires a sister who in turn acquires a child with Asperger’s. The new sub-plot will surely strengthen sales of the intended novel. It probably won’t and the cynicism with which it is created may well be lisible, even to an average reader. 

Clearly, there are many variants on this simplified story. These little manoeuvres designed to ride on the coat-tails of current trends are unlikely on their own to produce a best-seller. In any case, even bestsellers don’t pay the mortgage for very long. The serious money is in books which can be turned into films for the big screen. The reader lurking in the writer’s mind then becomes a film director or, at least, a scout for one.

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