My Ideal Reader
Stephen King discusses the concept of the “ideal writer” in his non-fiction book On Writing.
“I think that every novelist has a single ideal reader; that at various points during the composition of a story, the writer is thinking, "I wonder what he/she will think when he/she reads this part?" For me that first reader is my wife, Tabitha.”
Definitions of the ideal reader vary slightly, describing a fictional construct of a target reader or a kindred spirit. The consensus seems to be that the ideal reader is an imaginary audience that your writing is “meant” for.
On Writing has been described as part writing manual, part memoir. Though it is those things, I think it’s better described as a love story. It’s a romance between Stephen King, his writing life, and the written word.
Maybe that’s why it’s apt that King identifies his wife Tabitha as the embodiment of his ideal reader. It’s clear that she’s his other half and his sounding board. I also have an embodiment of my ideal reader. It’s my sister, affectionately known as Little Sis. She’s grown up with the same background as me. We enjoyed the same stories and movies growing up. Had very similar life experiences. I suppose that’s why she easily falls into the role of being my ideal reader. I don’t know what I’d do without her.
Little Sis is taller than me. *grumble*
I feel that writing truly is an ongoing love letter to that object of our literary affection; a reader who may or may not exist.
“I have to tell someone,” you say, in chapter after chapter. “Only you can understand why I’m doing this.”
The ideal reader correctly deciphers the nuances of your language, gets your little jokes, absorbs the message you’re trying to send. So you plead and seduce and charm this ideal reader, and you hope that with this next work, that they’ll still return your affection.
Just like with any prolonged love affair, you develop and grow and the letters reflect that. You push the relationship in different directions, lest it become stagnant. And so you have that innate fear:
“It’s been a while since I’ve last written,” states the beginning of your next book. “I know things are different now, but do you still love me?”
You may think that writing for someone who’s predisposed to “get your writing” may make it an easier process. This person thinks the world of you. She’ll let you slip by with an “I love it, it’s great!”
Not so. My ideal reader is very exacting and I think the IR, by his very nature, is going to be very demanding of you as a writer. Little Sis’ expectations are very high. There’s stuff she’ll let slide in other stories, but not in mine. NOT in a story written by her ideal writer. It’s like having my own brain cloned and being able to show my writing to myself, and have my clone look back and say, “I don’t get it.”
If my sister doesn’t understand, then no one will. I’ve confused my ideal reader which means I’ll confuse any reader. My ideal reader asks more of me than anyone else, but she sees what the story is trying to be, beneath the fog. She can see potential and pushes me to reach that potential. Other readers tell me what’s wrong with my story, but Little Sis tells me what the story can become.
L.S. is on the left, sometimes people can’t tell us apart
When I first starting writing this post, I thought I could discuss the purpose of the ideal reader, or describe the intricacies of a writer/critique partner relationship. But in the end, the post turned out to be a tribute to my Little Sis and how I’d have no writing process without her.
So that’s all this is: yet another love letter.
Jeannie Lin writes historical romantic adventures set in Tang Dynasty China and has published a full length novel and a short story in that time period. Her Golden Heart award-winning novel, Butterfly Swords, received 4-stars from Romantic Times Reviews—“The action never stops, the love story is strong and the historical backdrop is fascinating.”
Little Sis (Nam Nguyen) is published in short fiction and non-fiction. Her trade book, Micro Monsters, made the National Science Teacher Association’s 2010 list for best science books for K-12 students.
Visit Jeannie online at: http://www.jeannielin.com. Little Sis does not maintain an online presence as of yet, however Jeannie blogs about Little Sis and her cat Oliver quite a bit.
Thank you for sharing your Little Sis with us, Jeannie. And THANK YOU so very much for taking the time to visit with us this month! I cannot wait to see what you have in store for us next.