The Journal: Reader Taste vs. Writer Skill

In today’s Journal

* Well, Not a New Writing Process
* Topic: Reader Taste vs. Writer Skill
* If anyone else encountered a problem
* Yesterday
* I’ve decided
* Of Interest
* The Numbers

Well, Not a New Writing Process

Sorry about that. I labeled what I passed along to you yesterday “a new writing process.” It wasn’t.

I watched/listened to both videos. Well, all of the first one and the first few minutes of the second one. I want to say the videos contain a lot of filler, among which the “real” information is scattered. Unfortunately, I can’t even go that far. There was no “real” information. It was all fluff.

As a writing instructor, I’m a nuts and bolts kind of guy, not a “teaser” kind of guy. I respect writers who look to me for information, so I don’t pad my instruction to draw it out, and I don’t like it when others do. If this sounds negative or even harsh, well, so be it.

My takeaways:

1. I didn’t learn anything I didn’t know before, and it wasn’t because I made my writing bones as a poet. It’s because I’m a human being with ears, lips, vocal chords, lungs and a tongue. I listen and I speak (write), and in speaking and writing I use all the different “voices” or “tonalities” Mr. Grapes mentions in his discussion. And maybe a few others too.

2. What he deems all-important (“Writers Only Have To Know These 5 Basic Voices”), I see as just another aspect of writing. And really it’s a minor aspect at that. It’s far from the only thing writers have to know. These voices or tonalities are not even aspects in their own right really so much as lesser parts of other aspects of writing (characterization, setting, dialogue, narrative, etc.).

3. “Method writing” (a play on method acting) is not a writing process at all. It isn’t a way in which to go about putting new words on the page. It’s a focus on one aspect of writing, and really, a fairly minor aspect. It’s primary focus is to attract those who are addicted to learning about writing instead of actually writing.

These “5 Basic Voices” are also things of which you should already be aware, in fact if not in name, and I’m betting most of you are. You might not know his labels for them and you might not have called them “tonalities,” but so what?

Here they are: your own voice (whatever that means); chit-chat (seemingly unending dialogue); an elevated, “poetic” voice; the use of repetition; and stream of consciousness. Did any of you not already know about these?

The bottom line: Based on how the guy strung me along in the first video alone, I would not buy his book. I would expect only more of the same.

A quick note here: In my opinion, the fact that I didn’t hang around for the full second video was the fault of the speaker. He was spewing more of the same old stuff, so I left. Had he gotten into specifics, and if I hadn’t had to dig those specifics out of the weeds of verbiage, I might have hung around.

I hold myself (and all other instructors) to a certain standard: that we are attempting to teach something of actual use. My non-fiction is all nuts-and-bolts, with no filler and no fluff. If you want to learn the things I teach, you can trust that you won’t find a excess in my books and audio lectures.

Which leads me to a brief topic.

Topic: Reader Taste vs. Writer Skill

I also hold myself and all other fiction writers to that same standard and responsibility in fiction.

If my short story or novel is in your chosen genre, yet you can voluntarily put it down and go find something else to do, that’s my fault as the author, not your fault as the reader. Either I didn’t pull you deeply enough into the fictional world or I didn’t do so quickly enough and then hold you there. Shrug. So you left.

Some believe this effect goes to reader taste. I do not.

I believe “the reader put down my book because it wasn’t to his taste” is a copout. I believe reader taste goes to things like genre. Beyond that, if a reader sets aside a story or novel for which he has already paid good money, that’s the writer’s fault. Otherwise, what incentive do you have to improve? You can remain a Stage 1 or Stage 2 writer and complain that your stories simply aren’t to anyone’s “taste.” Likewise, if the readers continues to read, that’s also the writer’s fault. The writer has drawn the reader into the story and held him there.

I also believe all writers are (or can be) at different skill levels in different genres and subgenres (like “hard” science fiction vs. science fantasy or “soft” science fiction, for example).

For example, I see no reason why any reader who enjoys westerns would ever put down any of my westerns. Likewise with my action-adventure books, especially those that involve combat or a war.

On the other hand, some readers might put down some of my mystery stories because they might not hit all the buttons for mystery readers. (Strictly my fault—the buttons are there to study, but I haven’t mastered the form yet. Sometimes I hit the buttons for some readers and sometimes I don’t.)

Some others might put down my SF because, for example, I didn’t remain strictly true to the laws of physics (when I’m writing science fantasy) or the scenes/settings/descriptions weren’t “science fictiony” enough. (I get that sometimes, and I’m not offended in the slightest.)

The point is, it’s up to the writer to do everything he can to draw the reader into the story and then hold him there. It is not the reader’s responsibility to “hang in there” when the writer repeatedly allows him to surface from the story or never pulls him into it in the first place.

Here’s the generic, works-every-time formula for a successful story of any length:

1. To begin a story, you need only a character with a problem in a setting. The problem doesn’t have to be “the” problem of the story. It might be something as simple as an untied shoelace or a locked door the character expected to be unlocked.

2. To pull the reader into the story or “ground” him, you only need to invoke the reader’s empathy by recording the POV character’s physical and emotional senses.

3. To keep the reader in the story and keep him reading, you need a cliffhanger of some sort at the end of each major scene or chapter and a corresponding hook at the beginning of the next.

4. And then ground the reader again with the POV character’s physical and emotional senses and continue the story to the next cliffhanger/hook combination. Rinse and repeat.

Naturally, you also have to fulfill the reader’s expectations by hitting the appropriate buttons or touchstones of your genre or subgenre along the way. But you can NEVER add too much sensory detail from the POV character, even aside from the initial grounding at the beginning of the major scene or chapter.

In just the sense of hearing alone, the western POV character won’t notice the sound of his own saddle creaking as he rides, but he will definitely notice the sound of another saddle creaking nearby unexpectedly.

The action-adventure (or other) POV character usually won’t notice the sound of his own weapon being cocked as he cocks it, but he will definitely notice the sound of his opponent’s weapon being cocked. And so on.

In the midst of action, any POV character will notice tightly focused sights, smells, sounds, etc. that he might not notice if he was only walking through the room. These are some of the sensory details the writer includes not to ground the reader in the scene but to keep him grounded in the scene, to enable him to experience the scene along with the character.

If you begin with a character with a problem in a setting, if you ground the reader with sensory detail from the POV character, and if you employ cliffhangers and hooks, you will be successful as a fiction writer. Well, if you do those things and trust your characters.

That’s probably enough for today.

If anyone else encountered a problem trying to leave a comment on Steve Hooley’s “Serialized Fiction and Vella – What Do You Think?” (in yesterday’s “Of Interest”), that problem has now been rectified. And there are some good comments at

Yesterday I took another day off, sort of. I spent most of the day reading the 11th novel in the Wes Crowley series, titled In the Cantina at Noon. I wanted to get it fresh in my mind in case my next novel is the 12th in the series. A thoroughly enjoyable experience. (grin)

Talk with you again soon.

Of Interest

See “7 Tips For Producing More Words” at You know my take. This is a maybe valuable alternative for those of you who do not WITD.

See “99 Additional Bits of Unsolicited Advice” at

See “An Apology from the Desk of Duncan Ralston” at Or “Why Harvey Uses First Readers” (grin).

The Numbers

The Journal…………………………………… 1550 words

Writing of (novel)

Day 1…… XXXX words. Total words to date…… XXXXX

Total fiction words for May……… 21662
Total fiction words for the year………… 392941
Total nonfiction words for May… 6630
Total nonfiction words for the year…… 91490
Total words for the year (fiction and this blog)…… 484431

Calendar Year 2021 Novels to Date…………………… 8
Calendar Year 2021 Novellas to Date……………… 1
Calendar Year 2021 Short Stories to Date… 3
Novels (since Oct 19, 2014)…………………………………… 61
Novellas (since Nov 1, 2015)………………………………… 8
Short stories (since Apr 15, 2014)………………… 217
Short story collections……………………………………………… 31

Disclaimer: In this blog, I provide advice on writing fiction. I advocate a technique called Writing Into the Dark. To be crystal clear, WITD is not “the only way” to write, nor will I ever say it is. However, as I am the only writer who advocates WITD both publicly and regularly, I will continue to do so, among myriad other topics.