Saturday, May 20, 2017

Writing for Today's Reader - Fulfill Your End of the Contract

By Edie Melson

Did you know that you have a contract with your reader? You do. And it doesn’t matter if you write fiction, non-fiction, short or long. If what you write is being read, you have entered into a contractual agreement.

Today I want to explain what those expectations are and how you, as the writer, can fulfill those.


Party of the first part – from here on referred to as THE READER
THE READER agrees to suspend belief and enter the fictional world that’s been created.

Party of the second part – from here on referred to as THE WRITER
THE WRITER agrees to do everything possible to facilitate their remaining, undisturbed, within that world.

What exactly does this legal jargon mean? First, let’s tackle the expectations of the fiction reader.

Have you ever been reading a book or a story and something startles you back into reality. You may have actually felt like you were IN the story? It’s almost like an alternate reality or a dream. There’s a term for it—fictional dream.

If you’ve never heard the term before, don’t worry. I guarantee you know what I’m talking about. I think author, John Gardner says it best. 

“What counts in conventional fiction must be the vividness and continuity of the fictional dream the words set off in the reader’s mind.”

A fictional dream occurs when the world in the story you’re reading becomes more real than the physical world around you. We’ve all be there at one time or another—transported into another time or another place by an author’s well crafted words.

This experience is one that we try to create for our readers. And it’s one of the biggest differences between a good book and a great one. So how do we create this dream world? We do it by paying attention. Notice where you are right now. Are there sounds? Smells? Even if you’re not overwhelmed by your setting I bet you’re aware of it. The same thing is true for our characters. If we've written them as three dimensional people then they should notice and be affected by what's around them. However, if we neglect those details, we deny our readers the chance to be transported.

Here’s a list to help you stay on track:
  • Use correct grammar. Glaring mistakes can jar THE READER awake, making them wonder why they agreed to read you story.
  • Make your Point of View (POV) shifts clear and seamless. When you change POV make certain you have a good reason for doing so.
  • Use unobtrusive attributions, like said. Even better, use a speaker beat.
  • Avoid overuse of misspelled words to indicate dialect. A little is fine, but once THE READER has the character’s voice in their head, continuing makes the dialogue difficult to read.
  • Avoid italics when possible. An occasional italicized word for emphasis is fine, but thought after thought in italics is hard on the eyes. Instead, try to write deeper from the character’s POV. This is sometimes called Deep POV.
  • Use all five senses when you write. This will bring the story to life for THE READER
  • Following these simple guidelines can make it easier for THE READER to immerse themselves in our story.
With the non-fiction reader there are many of the same issues. But there is one major difference, the contractual agreement begins with the title of what you’ve written. Fiction authors can more easily get a way with a clever or even ambiguous title. Not so with non-fiction. A title is one of the main ways a non-fiction writer will judge what you’ve written. With that title, you’re making a promise and your reader will measure the worth of what you’ve written by that promise.

Now I’d like to know your thoughts. What things have you found in the books that break the contract for you? Be sure to leave your comments below.

Don’t forget to join the conversation!



It doesn't matter if you write fiction or non-fiction, you have an unwritten contract with your reader - via @EdieMelson (Click to Tweet)


  1. Life and writing intersect almost hourly at this point in my life. A kindness on a sidewalk, a near-miss accident, a sermon, a confession, tears in the eyes of a parent, a wise word of encouragement from an unexpected source, breaking news, a conversation in the next chair in a barber shop, a proud farmer selling fresh food from the garden at a roadside stand, a lone fisherman, a new father's excitement, a handmade gift from Grandma, dog-walkers chatting, local artists selling their work, a child's first trip to the dentist, an old family Bible - it's all life, and there's a story in each of them. I can easily name 20 things a day that are worth some ink. Anyone who says they can't come up with a thing must be living in a very dark cave. Hmmmmm..... even THAT just gave me an idea for a story. Life is all about.

    1. Jay, I so agree! Great insight! Blessings, E

  2. I realized (aka Holy Spirit showed me) not too long ago that my writing journey is closely woven with my journey of identity. as one grows and strengthens, so does the other, and the two are inextricably knit together.

    1. Great answer Robin. I would say that I agree. Writing takes a bravery and heart that only living can provide but life is not the same without the moments and time we take to write (or reflect) about it. My fear involves "accidently" choosing a life that does not give room to writing. I hope I do not do that. I guess when you are a writer though, you always find a way somehow. Right?

    2. Robin, I think that's true for all of us. Thank you so much for sharing! Blessings, E

    3. Believer's Blog, that's a fear we all face and yes we do find a way to write—or we suffer. Blessings, E

  3. Everything that happens in my life is fodder for the pen. It's how I sort things out.