Three Important Perspectives for Writing: Writer, Character, Reader

character creation editing honing the craft revising revision tips and tricks writing prompts Mar 25, 2021

Post written by Katie Wall.

"You must learn to be three people at once: writer, character, and reader." —Nancy Kress

Sound impossible? If taken literally, absolutely. But as a writer you can learn to view a writing project through multiple lenses—if not all at once, then at the least during individual editing passes through a manuscript.

Let’s take a look at each of these perspectives.

Writer

As a writer, I imagine you have a pretty decent handle on this perspective already. However, it’s important to get to know yourself as a writer—to learn what your skills and hang-ups are, as well as to study your craft. For example, if you don't know that you are naturally gifted at writing dialogue, how can you leverage that to your advantage? Similarly, if you don't recognize that your setting descriptions are consistently weak, how can you improve that skill?

Taking the time to study the writing craft—by reading craft books, taking writing courses, joining a writing group or working with a critique partner—will help you develop your voice, shore up your weaknesses, and capitalize on your strengths. This ultimately will mean less time between first draft and finished manuscript. Why? Because your writing will be stronger from the first draft.

A resource that can help you develop the ability to step back from the writer perspective is The Artful Edit (review here).

Character

As a writer, you also (probably) know that it’s important to develop your characters. You might be surprised when I tell you that many writers I encounter have not done the work to understand their characters’ motivations. If you don’t know what your character wants and why, then how can you really know them on a fundamental level? Getting down to this deep level will not only create a more compelling character, but focusing the core of your story around your protagonist’s arc of change (how they change internally from the start of the book to the end of the book) will make your book more engaging.

See these blog posts to learn more about creating compelling characters: part 1, part 2.

Once you’ve created your character, figure out what you need to help yourself get into their mindset each time you sit down to write or edit. Some writers find mood boards, music playlists, or props on their desks to be helpful with this. Then, as you write or read, keep asking yourself questions: “Why would he do that?” or “What emotion would she feel in reaction to what they said?” or “Wait, they wouldn’t react that way because of this thing that happened in their childhood… so what would they do?”

If you need help with character creation, check out Andrew's character creation consultation service.

Reader

The final perspective a writer must adopt is that of the reader. Developing this ability is crucial if your goal with writing is to have people engage with your story! (If you write just for yourself this is not necessary for you… because you’re already the reader.) So how do you do this?

First, you must define who your ideal reader is. Don’t fall into the trap of thinking that everyone will love to read your story! Some people don’t love to read at all, but those who do read often have favorite genres or even subgenres. One reader might prefer urban fantasy with gray moral characters. Another reader might gravitate toward psychological thrillers with strong female protagonists. And still another might primarily read romantic comedies with rural settings.

So what kind of story are you writing? Who do you think would love it? You can brainstorm characteristics of your ideal reader such as age, gender, geographical location, education level, hobbies, what keeps them up at night, and on and on. Get detailed!

Once you have an idea of who your ideal reader is, then practice viewing things from their perspective. Think about examples of other books they like. What do they like about those books? What don’t they like about them?

Then, as you write or edit your own manuscript, apply this lens. Are you meeting their expectations based on the genre you’re writing in? Will they feel satisfied when they turn that final page and finish the last sentence?

In addition to reading from your ideal reader’s perspective, you can also evaluate your work from a general reader perspective. What do I mean by this? I mean, you can read as if you are not the writer. This sounds simple, but it’s incredibly easy as a writer to think that you’ve put things on the page that aren’t actually there. How will your reader know that the important door on page 32 is made of wood if you left that detail out? How will they know that the relationship scene on page 85 is your protagonist’s first time being kissed if you haven’t set the stage earlier in the book that they are inexperienced in this way?

While you write or revise, then, try to take your reader’s perspective. Include more details than you think are necessary—they are easier to cut later than to add in--to ensure that your reader can follow the story and picture that is in your head.


Writing prompt:

Write down:

  • What you know about yourself as a writer, especially your strengths and weaknesses.
  • What you know about your protagonist(s), especially focusing on their motivations.
  • What you know about your ideal reader, taking time to really define them.

Now write down how each of these perspectives might help you strengthen your current WIP.

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