Who’s the Reader?

My eight-year-old daughter, Sarah, is a ferocious reader. I think that’s normally ‘voracious,’ but given the way she snarls when interrupted, ‘ferocious’ is more of a fit. And I’m glad of it — I love that she loves to read.

She’s also my best, pickiest test audience. If a scene is boring, she has no hesitation about letting me know it. Of course, she’ll try to spare my feelings. It’ll go something like this: we’re curled up together on the couch and I’m reading my chapter to her. She puts her hand on mine and very gently asks, “Mommy? Is it okay if you read me something else?”

Or, we get to the end of the chapter and she asks me to explain what happened and what parts are important, because the scene wasn’t holding her attention. I don’t feel so bad, though, because sometimes this happens with other people’s books, too, even the shiny published ones with nice award stickers on the front.

So you see, she is an avid reader, but a discerning one.

I’m in the planning stages for a couple of books right now. One, though it’s for reluctant readers, is targeted at kids Sarah’s age and a bit older. And I’m going to write it for her.

It’s something I’ve seen other writers talk about — how their ideal audience, the one they have in mind when making editorial decisions, is just one person. Because trying to write something that will please everyone is counter-intuitive; we all know that’s impossible. But writing something for a specific person, when you know what they like and what makes them laugh, what keeps them turning pages and coming back for more, that’s easier. And the beautiful thing about it is, in writing for that one person, you can actually create something that will appeal to a lot more people.

So in planning this story, I’m asking myself what Sarah would want to read. The kids have to solve their own problems, of course. That’s a given. And the main character probably needs to be a girl this time, or at least there needs to be a girl in it that plays a major role. No lessons or spelled-out morals; she hates it when books do that. So those are reasonable guidelines, but they’re very general.

Where I think this approach will really make a difference, though, is when I’m building the character — what sort of person would Sarah want to read about? How will that person think/talk/act/move? And when I’m in scenes, letting characters make decisions — which decisions will lead to the more interesting story? And what’s the best thing, the funniest or most shocking or most thought-provoking thing that the character could say?

I’ve written for “kids” before, but I’ve never tried writing a particular book with one particular child in mind. So I hope that this works out. At the very least, I’ll have written a story my daughter enjoys, I hope. Even if I have to re-draft for the publisher, that’s worth the experiment, right there!



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