The Daily Journal, Tuesday, March 12

In today’s Journal

▪ Topic: Reader Taste Revisited
▪ Daily diary
▪ Of Interest
▪ The numbers

Topic: Reader Taste Revisited

Well, I started a minor firestorm with my offhand comment in my post “On Readers’ ‘Taste’ and Writers’ Ability” over at…-writers-ability/. (grin)

The point of the article was based on a simple but solid premise: that all fiction writers who are (or profess to be or want to be) professionals are responsible for their own work and should strive to learn how to keep readers in their stories.

After all, if every unfinished reading experience can be marked up to reader taste, why should any writer continue trying to improve? Of course, I’m using sarcasm here.

To me, writers have two clear choices: They can either take responsibility for the quality of their writing and strive to improve, or they can simply mark up every unsatisfactory reading experience (and low sales) to “reader taste” and simply keep writing whatever they want to write without a thought for craft.

If it isn’t clear, I’m a member of the former group. Hence, my radical opinion. Though it wasn’t too many years ago when taking responsibility for one’s own life and work was the mainstream opinion.

I think I made the point well, not that I didn’t expect some backlash, and I got it, albeit from some unexpected sources.

The opposing argument seems to be that any time any reader can’t get into even a bestselling author’s work, it’s purely a matter of reader taste. Even if the reader read and enjoyed a lot of that bestselling author’s work before.

First, it’s a given that if the bestselling author writes in a particular genre and you (the reader) don’t like or read that genre, certainly that’s a matter of reader taste.

For example, I don’t read heaving-bosom romance because it simply isn’t something I would enjoy. So it goes against my personal taste as a reader. The author might be a great writer or s/he might be a hack, but I’ll never know because I don’t care for that kind of romance.

For another more specific example, I absolutely love Dean Wesley Smith’s time-travel and SF works, but I can’t stand his Poker Boy stories. Again, reader taste.

But say you DO like a particular genre. Say you even like that particular genre from that particular author and have read a ton of them.

Now say you suddenly encounter one you just can’t get into because you’re never pulled into the story. Or you’re pulled in but something about the writing keeps bouncing you out.

In that case, I still assert that’s the fault of the writer, not the reader.

For example, I’ve read almost everything Stephen King ever wrote. Yet I couldn’t get through one novel specifically because every now and then but repeatedly I was bounced out of the story by the author’s (or typesetter’s) repeated use of ALL CAPS or Bold. (As in, “Peter put on the brakes as they approached the STOP sign.” Sigh.)

It was off-putting. It was distracting. Instead of enjoying the story, I was annoyed, wondering why he did that. A couple of years ago, when I turned in an assignment in a workshop to DWS, he wrote back that he had trouble staying in the story because of my use of italics to indicate unspoken thought. I did that because I wanted to differentiate between spoken thought (dialogue, set off with quotation marks), the narration (in regular type) and unspoken thought (with italics).

Dean made me realize with his criticism that if every word on the page is filtered through the POV character’s physical senses and the character’s opinions of the setting, the reader would never be confused as to what was narrative and what was unspoken thought (some call this “internal dialogue,” a misnomer since it’s a monologue and not spoken).

As a result, I no longer use italics to indicate unspoken thought. And guess what? I’ve never had a reader say s/he couldn’t differentiate between the three kinds of text. Nor has anyone reported feeling confused by unspoken thought being in normal font face (like the narrative).

But the glitches (I’m being kind) in King’s work drew attention to themselves for no good reason and pulled me from the story. And really, ever since junior high school, writers have been told to avoid ALL CAPS and Bold because 1) there’s simply no reason for it and 2) it’s distracting.

Now, will EVERY reader notice the glitches? No, s/he won’t. But for those who do, that writer might have lost future sales.

It wasn’t my fault as a reader that I was knocked out of the story repeatedly. To posit that I went into the book looking for a reason to leave early is ridiculous. I’m like any other reader. I go into a book with my sense of disbelief already suspended. All the writer has to do is not buy it back.

The problem in the King book was that the glitches were so numerous and occurred so often that I was unable to continue even in what I thought was an excellent story. And the story was excellent, at least the part I read. But even that was not enough to help me trudge (or pull me) through the glitches. I still wonder what happened in the story.

I still hope someday I’ll find a different edition in a used bookstore somewhere, one in which those glitches do not appear. If I do, I’ll buy the book again and happily read it.

Anyway, that isn’t the firestorm I was referring to at the beginning of this topic. In the post, I wrote, “As an aside, I don’t know of anyone who doesn’t like works by Ray Bradbury or Raymond Chandler.” In hindsight, I should have hedged my bet or further fueled the firestorm by mentioning James M. Cain and Louis L’Amour. (grin)

My insinuation was that back in the day, writers took responsibility for their own work as a matter of course. I failed, however, to add that insinuation in actual words.

So two respondents felt the need to say they don’t like Bradbury. That’s fine by me, but they kind of missed the overall point of the article.

And now the whole thing comes full circle. Those readers who latched onto my “aside” comment missed the point because I distracted them from it.

And that i my fault. After all, I’m the writer. (grin)

As a writing instructor, I’ve been telling writers for years not to put anything on the page that will distract the reader’s attention from the story. I stand by that.

Of course, all of this is only my opinion. At the end of the day, you should continue along whatever road you’ve chosen.

As an aside (ahem), nobody has yet come forth to say they don’t like Raymond Chandler’s stories. (grin)

Rolled out late this morning at around quarter to 4. Today is the last day of the last son’s visit, so probably not a big writing day.

However, I plan to take my new baby ‘puter (Hal2) and the WIP with me on the upcoming camping trip.

The target date for the last day of this part of the challenge is March 21, so I see no reason why I can’t get at least a few thousand words done while I’m gone.

This morning while I’m still visiting but not directly engaged I’ll add notes from my first readers for Blackwell Ops 4. (grin)

Well, for the first time since February 3, I’m putting up a goose egg for fiction writing today. Working with my son (I’m mostly watching) to get his rig ready to hit the road and it’s been a bit of a trial. So no fiction today.

I’ve decided not to postpone the challenge though. It is what it is. I’m gonna work through it and see what I have when the smoke clears on the last day (June 4).

Talk with you again tomorrow.

Of Interest

See “Searching for… Discouragement” at

See “World Building (Part III)” at

See “A Lifetime in a Tin Cup” at

See “Feminism and Copyright Revisited” at

See “Lifetime Subscription Information” at Some great bargains for those of us who take responsibility for our own work.

See “Writing Off Into the Dark, Take 2” at

Fiction Words: XXXX
Nonfiction Words: 1380 (Journal)
Total words for the day: 1380

Writing of Stern Talbot, PI: The Case of the Wayward Bullet (novel)

Day 1…… 2412 words. Total words to date…… 2412
Day 2…… 1563 words. Total words to date…… 3975
Day 3…… 1407 words. Total words to date…… 5382
Day 4…… 1373 words. Total words to date…… 6755
Day 5…… 1780 words. Total words to date…… 8535
Day 6…… XXXX words. Total words to date…… XXXXX

Total fiction words for the month……… 23080
Total fiction words for the year………… 182138
Total nonfiction words for the month… 8810
Total nonfiction words for the year…… 60030
Total words for the year (fiction and this blog)…… 242168

Calendar Year 2019 Novels to Date………………………… 4
Calendar Year 2019 Novellas to Date…………………… X
Calendar Year 2019 Short Stories to Date……… X
Novels (since Oct 19, 2014)………………………………………… 41
Novellas (since Nov 1, 2015)……………………………………… 7
Short stories (since Apr 15, 2014)……………………… 193
Short story collections…………………………………………………… 31