Monday, 16 December 2013

Musings – Crying at Weddings and Right Brain, Left Brain, and Getting a Good Night's Sleep….Part 2

by Pat Thomas

Summing up Blog Part One: I don’t cry at weddings if I do math when I begin to feel emotional. And I have a better sleep if I do math before I drift off. If I do the math, creative worrying doesn’t swarm inside my head, nudging away the hours of sleep I need. After a mathematical problem or puzzle, I just drift off.

In other words bedtime with Sudoku works wonders for settling my mind.


Where’s this leading?

Well, we’re not trying to put readers to sleep when they read our books – we want the opposite. We want them to become so absorbed in the stories they can’t put them down. We want them to love them and follow up with lovely reviews….

So, rather than the logic of math that distances emotions, we want readers drawn in, to have the lived-through experience when they read our novels. We want them to be swept away.

Louise Rosenblatt, an influential theorist on reader response, wrote that engaged readers ‘create and live the story with the author, as a reader.’  She explains that a transaction takes place when this happens: Each reader is changed and the text is changed because of what the reader brings to the text. She suggests everyone reads a different story though the book can be the same.

And Dan Strawn, an Amazon reviewer obviously agrees with Rosemblatt’s assessment because when he reviewed the novel, Shattered, he praised Jenny Marsland because she ‘achieved every writer’s goal: To tell an entertaining story by letting the readers feel as if they, not the story's players, are living the tale.’

In Rosenblatt’s, Making Meaning With Texts: Selected Essays, she explains The reader brings to the work personality traits, memories of past events, present needs and preoccupations, a particular mood of the moment and a particular physical condition. These and many other elements in a never-to-be-duplicated combination determine his[her] response to the text.’

Here’s a current illustration: Last month I was on the third and final pass of Julianne MacLean’s The Color of Hope and on that third read, I cried for the first time. On that pass, I was engaged as a reader, and totally drawn into her story.

It’s strange – though I’d already gone through the wonderful novel twice, that third read was when a lump formed in my throat and I shed a few tears.

On the first two reads, my needs and preoccupations were as a critical editor; my focus was to dissect plot and story and structure and use of words and punctuation and more. My approach was analytical and systematic, and no wonder I didn’t have that emotional response. My analytical approach was like doing the math at a wedding. I couldn’t place myself in the story and let myself be swept away.

So what does this mean for you as a writer?

Perhaps you have written the best story of your life.... Everyone who reads it, all your family and friends agree it’s your best.

That may be true, but before you upload it I suggest you ensure there are no small errors and inconsistencies, ones you may not notice – but others will.

If there are errors and typos the goodness of your efforts can be lost to readers who aren’t invested in you, personally. They may have to ignore too much and work too hard to get the story, like the reader who wrote this funny note to herself.  She’s obviously not swept away.

Here’s something else to consider: With the popular use of e-readers, and inexpensive book downloads, readers are sometimes impatient, not willing to waste time on books they don’t connect to right away. If they don’t like the first ten pages they just put the book away and download another.

A couple mistakes and inconsistencies in the first few pages, and some readers remove themselves from your story. It’s so easy to move on without investing much.

Little errors, unimportant to some, can interfere with the lived-though experience of other readers. And when errors are noticed, some readers become critics immediately rather than working to tighten their emotional connection to the story.

Some readers are distracted by the first error and can’t see beyond that mistake to appreciate the story. Others continue to read – but they may continue to read to find every error before writing a scathing review.

So, beware. Have your work properly edited so more readers will be swept away by your books. That will boost sales and bring great reviews.

Ensure that level of care, so readers don’t just sweep your books under the carpet.

We don’t want that.

Visit Pat at her website


  1. Thanks, Pat. Love Rosenblatt's diagram showing why every reader's response is different. There are sure a lot of variables!

    1. I love that you waded your way through the maze of words and found something. Rosenblatt was SOME amazing lady.
      Have a nice Christmas.

  2. Great post Pat! Errors irk me as a reader and a writer!

    1. Yes. But sometimes we all make them, or I overlook them. And so much rides on minimizing all that.
      Glad you enjoyed the post, Lori.

  3. Great post, Pat. I think this also explains why we can't judge our own work. The creative brain and the critical brain don't work together.

  4. And I spelled your name wrong, Jennie. There's egg on my face right now.
    Glad you enjoyed the post.