A large part of learning the craft of writing is reading. Craft books can boil down and structure a writer’s understanding of the elements of a fictional story in a particular genre, but understanding the communicative process of telling or hearing a story can only be achieved by experiencing it ourselves.
Stories have always been a large part of my life. I’ve just bought my kids the Enchanted Wood and Wishing Chair books by Enid Blyton so we can read them together, and the details still leap with life within my memory. I have a clear imprint in my mind of the slide through the Faraway Tree and its cushions and I remember how I felt reading the book (over and over again, as it turned out). Remembering the little wings on the Wishing Chair brought my joy at the stories rushing back.
When I discovered romance novels at about seventeen, I discovered a world of fantasy I loved and a new way of experiencing a story – one that focussed on what I wanted to read, which was the characters’ journey towards a relationship that ended happily.
Since then, writing has changed my perspective on stories over time. I have learned to recognise tropes – useful tools for storytelling that activate something familiar inside the reader – and understand how genre, characterisation and plot structure work together to produce something everyone would recognise as a novel (whether in physical form or not!), and some will love.
SOME will love. This is my most recent epiphany. Reading is a communicative process between a writer and a reader. It’s about BOTH parties.
I had heard the ‘platitude’ regarding submissions to publishers that one rejection doesn’t necessarily reflect the quality of your work, it might just not be a good match, publishing is subjective, even if one person hates it, someone else will love it blah blah blah.
But just as not every child retreated repeatedly into the Enchanted Wood for comfort and entertainment, not every reader will respond to every story. Not every romance reader will respond to every romance.
What made me finally realise this? As I took the opportunity to do lots of reading over the Christmas holidays (all romance of course – holiday reading), I liked some more than others. I liked some authors more than others, but even within the repertoir of the same author, I liked some books more than others. To be perfectly honest, I didn’t like some of them. And when I look up some of the titles on Goodreads, some of the ones I loved have average reviews. And one I didn’t finish had high ratings.
It’s not that the book wasn’t any good. It clearly was, according to Goodreads and its publisher. But what I found in that book was something different to what others found there, because I am a different person. Readers will respond to my work in the same way.
We as writers can (and have a responsibility to) make our stories intelligible and relatable with sentence structure, characterisation, conflict and sensitivity. But we can’t write a story for someone else. And not everyone will like the stories that belong to us. The purpose of publishing in all its diverse forms is to find the people who relate to our stories and to communicate to them – to unleash the quiet power of our stories to enrich the lives of the people who respond to them.