Writers Should Meet Reader Expectations

Last week we discussed “Why Writers Should Follow the Rules of Writing.” Now we’ll focus on reader expectations.

When readers consider our writing, they have a set of expectations – whether they realize it or not. If we don’t meet their expectations, they will stop reading. If we fail miserably, they may never read anything else we write – ever again.

The first expectation of readers is interesting writing that holds their attention. Without that, nothing else matters.

Nonfiction readers expect our writing will educate, encourage, or enlighten them. There are probably other reasons, too, but these are the main ones. Our writing must be logical, carefully researched, and well organized. It can’t contain factual errors or circular logic. It needs a compelling premise and a strong conclusion. Even if a reader disagrees with what we say, they shouldn’t find fault with how we said it.

Fiction readers seek escapism, entertainment, or an emotional journey. Like nonfiction readers, they may also want to be educated, encouraged, or enlightened, but, if so, these are secondary needs. With fiction, we need to hook the reader quickly, give them a reason to keep turning pages, delight them with surprises along the way, and not leave them disappointed at the end.

Also, each fiction genre carries its own set of expectations, such as word length, writing style, point of view, target audience, and so forth. These can best be learned by reading extensively in that genre. Read the classics, as well as contemporary works. Also consider those with critical acclaim, along with bestsellers – even if experts berate the writing.

The expectation of memoir readers falls somewhere in between nonfiction and fiction, while poetry and other written art (screenplays, song lyrics, ad copy, and so forth) carry their own unique expectations. Again, study successful pieces and praised works in the particular category to discern what expectations readers may hold.

Meeting reader expectations will go a long way towards success as an author, but the key is to simply write something people enjoy reading.

My First Poetry Contest

A couple of weeks ago, I did something I never expected I would do. I impulsively entered a poetry contest. Yep, that’s correct. A decidedly non-poet entered a poetry contest.

One of the blogs I follow (and highly recommend for all writers) is Rachelle Gardner‘s.

On March 16 Rachelle posted a quick haiku writing contest for her readers. In case you need a refresher, haiku is a 3 line poem that has a pattern of 5 syllables, 7 syllables, and 5 syllables.

I was about to dismiss it, when I thought I’d give it a shot. After all, how hard could it be to pen 17 syllables? I quickly came up with something that I felt was passable and posted it so I could be part of the process. The haiku I submitted was:

March seventeen green
not a color I don, yet
clover four doth seek

A few days later, to my complete shock, I learned that my haiku was selected as one of six finalists! Readers of Rachelle’s blog were invited to help select the winner.

Though I never expected to win, I was dismayed at coming in dead last with only 1% deeming my haiku to be the best. I only garnered six votes — and one of the votes was mine.

It was fun to participate, but I’m not so sure about coming in dead last.

Eleven Writing Exercises to Sharpen Your Writing

Like physical exercises, which are beneficial for your body, writing exercises are beneficial for developing your skill as a writer. While exercise is seldom pleasant, it is a wise and worthy pursuit. Here are some exercises to consider in developing your craft as a wordsmith:

  1. Revise something you wrote to hit a specific word count. This could be to expand it or condense it. Both are helpful skills to have. Editors appreciate it when you can hit a target length.
  2. Completely rewrite something without referring to the original. Then compare the two. Note what is the same, what is different, and what is better. Now merge the two into a third — and hopefully superior version.
  3. Taking a 1,200-word article or essay that you wrote, condense it into a 600-word version. Then revise it to a 300-word blog post. Finally, turn it into a 140-character tweet.
  4. Do the reverse, taking someone else’s tweet, expanding on the concept (don’t plagiarize) to make a blog post. Then expand it further to become an article, essay, or short story.
  5. Write a short story using only one-syllable words (or any other creative restriction you can concoct).
  6. Write a 26-sentence story where each sentence starts with a successive letter of the alphabet, A through Z.
  7. Subscribe to A Word A Day. Each weekday they will email you a unique or interesting word. Use that word in conversation or writing that day.
  8. Rewrite something you wrote, adding alliteration to the text.
  9. Write metered poetry, song lyrics, or haiku. All of these force writers to fit cogent ideas into a certain rhythm or number of syllables.
  10. Often writing magazines will suggest a writing exercise. These add variation to your writing workouts. Some also have contests. Even if you’re not ready to submit your work, it is great practice.
  11. Come up with an interesting or catchy title — now write to that title. The same can be done writing to reach a predetermined, pithy conclusion.

Personally, I have done most of these at one time or another. What I find most helpful are those that affect word count, helping me to be more concise or more inclusive in what I write. I’m also a big fan of alliteration, but need to guard against going overboard with it.