Do you remember your first time at a new restaurant? The first weird food you ate? What about that trip abroad? How did you describe the culture or feel when you stepped into a market, store or street of an unfamiliar place?
How did you describe it to your friends?
Readers as Friends, Readers as Dates
C.S. Lewis was an avid proponent of being kind to readers. There are two kinds of reading experiences we’ve all had. One of them is as if a friend were telling us an intricate, weaving story that rivets us. In some ways, we’re on a date with a story. The good dates end with our knowledge of the most important and pertinent facts, and the way they’re presented is in an organic manner that we’re comfortable with.
However, then we have the dates where we learn nothing, the flow is artificial and it feels as if we’re pulling teeth to learn any information at all. These dates leave us frustrated, angry and maybe a little depressed.
Your story is on a date with the reader. The reader really does want to get to know your story, and most of all, they want to fall in love.
If our story has structure and is presented in an organic way, the reader will get acquainted, and then fall in love with it. They may even ‘marry’ it in a way, with longterm devotion and even defense against those who have a negative word towards it.
That’s the goal of every story. No matter the length, or the depth. A good story is solid, and moving. It causes readers to swoon and tell others about their love.
World Building and a classy date are the same thing
World building, as fun as it is, is somewhat of an architectural procedure that is played out organically within the story. There is a very serious balance in presenting world information, in the same way you present yourself on a date. Nothing too detailed at first, because the reader is just getting to know your story.
As time progresses, you can reveal more to the reader, so they get a better understanding of where they are, and they begin to feel like they’re in one of those markets in stories you told of your great adventures abroad.
Now this is in terms of storytelling. I am a huge proponent of visual inundation in terms of presenting a world. However, that inundation needs to be a payoff to a tease. I always believe that the reader should be presented with pertinent information. If that information is a vast city landscape, that is just as valid as a house on a hill by the sea. Your world serves the story, not vice versa.
There are too many works out there that could be amazing had they given us a story with volumes of invisible ink instead of using the wrong pen and giving us a visual cacophony that overwhelms us and makes us feel as if we just had a Wal-Mart beer outside a 7-11 with a bucktoothed mulleted date rather than a fine dining at a pristine high rise New York restaurant.
It pains me to hear of authors and creators treat their readers as if they’re fools. If the authors had sufficient intelligence they would know that these readers LOVE their work and feel betrayed by any foul play in terms of storytelling.
Your readers will always spot foul storytelling. They always know. It’s not to make you paranoid, but you remember the last time you almost threw something at the TV when a show pulled a stunt or you threw a book across a room because a character was needlessly killed off.
Internal Logic as Key
When we’re presenting ourselves on a date, it’s usually assumed that we’re honest because the logic of the stories we tell the other person are consistent. The same goes for our writing. If our previously established rules are violated, we had better have a GOOD reason to do so, and acknowledge that to the readers in form of reaction, or exposition explaining so. Discrepency in stories have been the downfall of many a book, movie and TV show.
If a logic is formed within the story, it’s a very good idea to stick to it.
If you do need to make a change or throw things on their heads, so to speak, make sure to let the readers know clearly in some way. Also be sure that any effects of changing a key are addressed in some form. This isn’t a big problem. Most of the time a single sentence from a character or visual queue can do that, and the story can move on without gaps.
Your date pays for the meal
The best part about the receiving end of the date is when the other person pays. You feel as though this great conversation and time with someone who is invested in you has been a gift. It’s been a treat, and your night has been made. You know the potential for love is there, and want to see them again. You even wonder if there’s a chance of long-tem commitment in the future.
This is exactly what a good book feels like. It’s a romantic connection and a payoff that leaves you floating on Cloud 9. Even if the story is sad, or scary, you still have that feeling of accomplishment.
This is your brain on storytelling
The ending of an event or story hits the area of the brain responsible for giving us feeling of satisfaction and completion. The brain registers reading a book as a task, and if that task is rewarding for the time and effort put into it, the brain will register completion with reward. It’s how we’re wired, and it’s how we react to a story that works well.
Both a date and reading a book are considered tasks in some way. You must interact and put out effort to do something for said task, and the brain assigns importance to said task depending on the reward. Reward given for no work is a gift, and is registered as such. Your story is both a task that they are willing to put effort (time and patience) into for reward. We want to know the end. We want completion. We want some form of reward of being so patient.
Stories are both a gift and a task in regards to the brain. Just like a date. We’re treated, and any effort we put into the event is rewarded substantially. The best part about a date is that the ‘task’ registered by the brain is not registered consciously. It’s a subconscious thing that leaves us puzzled after a bad date, and elated after a good one.
We don’t view human interaction as a task, most of the time. Most certainly not when it concerns getting to know another person. We’re wired for curiosity and learning. Learning and discovery bring us joy as human beings, and a good date is just that. A good story is just that.
Sometimes a date can be weird, or a little unusual. The setting can be unusual, and the events even absurd. However none of that matters as long as the core of the event, the person we’re on the date with, is worth anything we experience during the event. The payoff is worth anything that happens on the date, and that payoff is satisfaction of discovery.
If your story is kind and generous to its readers, and they feel cared for in terms of presenting needed information in an organic, fluid way, they’ll come away from your story feeling satisfied. However the satisfaction of that story will build in them a yearning for more.
That is a good date, and a good story.