The Role of the Reader

Style: something that defines the work of any single author, regardless of content. Anyone can write about 18th century England, but only Charles Dickens can make the reader see, smell, hear and feel every detail of the setting he has chosen with such skill. Anyone can write advice to Christians living in a pagan world, but only C.S. Lewis can write with such ingenious wording that it leaves the reader in awe of how perfectly the phrasing was. Anyone can write a fantasy fiction story about weird and fantastic creatures and events, but only J.R.R. Tolkien can weave a story so complex and awe-inspiring that it leaves readers at a loss.

And the key words there? Style and reader. The connection between the two cannot be stressed enough.

Why do we write? Many would answer with responses like, “because I can be myself – I can pour myself out in a way that is beautiful and artistic.” Others would say, “because to create is to be fulfilled.” Still others say that writing is a way to speak – to communicate. And yet, whatever we might say, do we not always write with the expectation that what we create will be read? Are we not always proud of our creation? Do we want it shown to the world? Maybe the thought is as frightening as it is attractive, but the idea is eternally in our minds.

The importance of a writer’s audience, then, is plain. And style? Style is the way a writer actually communicates with his or her readers. It’s the unspoken words and the underlying message. It’s the story behind the words and the emotion behind the description. It’s the attitude beneath the phrasing, and the passion in the ink. Style, I say, is the medium with which we put pen to paper – it is the filter that stands between the creative waterfall originating from our hearts and minds, and the pool of words and ink that etch themselves into the paper.

Whatever idea may occur to us (inspiration, emotion, plot-line, character personality…), it is always tempered by what we perceive our audience will think of our writing. Is it realistic? you ask yourself. Is it believable? Or, if that’s not applicable to your genre of writing, does this make sense? you might ask. Is this understandable? Editing is a task that ensures clarity and correct attention to detail – why bother if we don’t are about the audience? In fact, why even draft the stuff if not for the pleasure of presenting it?

Audience, I believe, plays a part in every act of writing, no matter the content, style, author, genre, or even inspiration. Author and audience – writer and reader – are bound by bonds invisible but undisputable.

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7 thoughts on “The Role of the Reader

  1. Stevie McAllister says:

    Why bother is we don’t care about the audience?

    I, personally, write most fiction (fan or original) because the idea occurs to me. I tailor my works to show that I understand grammar and punctuation, but content is usually crafted for the purpose I see fit.

    If someone likes it, that’s great. But, J.R.R.Tolkien didn’t write his epic stories to please an audience. He, as well as Lewis, wrote to comment on the human condition and to present values they thought were lost to their generation in a way that would be expected.

    Why even draft the stuff if not for the pleasure of presenting it?

    I would say we draft our ideas to explore ourselves. Even if we don’t share our work, we write to frame our beliefs, what we consider morals, and our experience into a medium that could be understood by other people. Even if we do share it, it’s not to be told we’re great writers, it’s to attempt to positively influence those around us to look at life in a different more inclusive way.

    • InkSplashes says:

      I see your point, but would you not agree that every writer does, in some small way at least, consider the audience when they write? I agree with what you’re saying – that our PRIMARY reasons for writing rarely – if ever – include “because this is what I think the audience would like to read,” but I do think that however much it influences us, audience is always something we consider, no matter what kind of writing we’re doing. My main point is that no matter how much of an influence it is, audience is always a factor we take into account.

      • Stevie McAllister says:

        I think we consider audience in terms of the content and genre of our story. So yes we do keep them in mind!

  2. jrobison10 says:

    I really liked this post. I like how you articulated the idea of style through previous authors. To me I would agree that style is our selling point. You don’t have style you aren’t a very good writer. Yet however if you don’t put an idea of who your audience is it will bite you. Lewis made sure to clarify that Narnia was for children. If he hadn’t it may not have been so successful. However I think you already know that. You rather work on your own style rather than panic about the audience. I like it.

    • InkSplashes says:

      Thank you for your comment! I liked the Narnia/Lewis analogy you made, and since Lewis is one of my favorite authors, your point was well made. I think both audience and style have a very prominent part to play in our writing, but I think how much of each you take into account depends on what you intend to write. A story like Narnia obviously must take into account its audience more than many other pieces of writing simply because its audience is a big factor in the story – children. However, if you’re writing – say – an really emotional-type short story, the audience matters less than style if you want the story to have the right effect.

    • Stevie McAllister says:

      I would also argue that C.S. Lewis’s book wasn’t just for children, but also had a religious foundation, religious fantasy. That’s why his books were popular, not because they were children.

      • InkSplashes says:

        Yes, I’d agree with that, but they were especially written with children in mind as well. Lewis himself said his fairy tales were meant for both children and adults.

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