Is That What You Wrote? That’s Not What I Read.

I once critiqued part of a story for an English professor. I told her I could really “see” the character as a scornful, snobby woman. She was shocked. That was not who her character was.

One of the goals of a writer is to pull the reader into the story; to become the character, to feel what that character feels. In other words, to empathize. The truth of the matter is, however, that the reader will never read your story the same way you wrote it. Why? Because we all pull our understanding from our own life experiences.

I had a classmate in school named Norman. Norman was mean to me and thought it was great fun. I will never know why, but today it would be called bullying. Have you ever had someone in your life like that?

You may write a wonderful love story with a guy named Norman who has a PhD in love and a body like Adonnis, but as soon as I see his name is Norman, guess what I picture?

Toon Cyclop BarbarYour character has just been colored by my own emotions and experiences.

Does this mean it is a waste of time to carefully craft your characters so the reader can get to know them? Of course not. A good writer has a single goal: to share a good story. You do the best you can to help your reader know and identify with your characters. What they bring to the table may add shades of gray, but that is beyond your control.

This helps explain why pleasing everyone is not a feasible goal. Please yourself and one other person, and you will please your target group. What about you? Have you ever read a book and realized partway through that you have misunderstood a character?

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