Sometimes it feels like there are as many ways to read, and as many reading preference, as there are readers. We can read with a focus on learning or on entertainment. We can actively engage and question the text, or we can be more passive. We can read to challenge and push ourselves, or we can read as a form as escapism.
When it comes to fiction, of course, “learning” as a underlying purpose for reading is much more rare than for a nonfiction text. That doesn’t mean there aren’t multiple ways, or reasons, to read a novel.
Readers come in all shapes and sizes. Here are just a handful of types we writers should be aware of:
1. READERS WHO FOCUS ON CHARACTER.
These are readers who delve into literary fiction, and don’t understand how other people can call a character study “boring” or say that “nothing happens.”
They love characters because characters share our humanity, and often hold a mirror to or otherwise lead us to consider the human condition from a vantage point that is new for us.
Of course, some authors focus more on who their characters are than others. Some readers will enjoy that, while others won’t. (I tend to focus on character, and getting to know my characters as I write their stories, a LOT.)
2. READERS WHO CARE MORE ABOUT WHAT HAPPENS THAN WHO THE PEOPLE INVOLVED ARE.
These readers love action, adventure, and a fast pace where something is always at risk or someone is always in danger.
They don’t feel ambivalence toward the characters: not necessarily. They aren’t heartless. But they care more about what the characters do than who they are. They love beating the odds and achieving the impossible.
3. READERS WHO WANT TO KNOW WHAT HAPPENS IN A BOOK BEFORE THEY READ.
One of my best friends falls into this category. She likes to know ahead of time, for sure, that everything is going to end up okay for the characters. And how it’s going to be okay. And if it isn’t, she wants fair warning of that so that she can be prepared.
I don’t invest quite that much emotionally into a story about fictional people, but sometimes I wish I could! I think it’s a mark of great empathy and simple human compassion.
4. READERS WHOSE EXPERIENCE IS RUINED IF THEY HEAR SPOILERS.
These readers are the complete opposite of my friend. I’m not saying they aren’t compassionate; they just want no idea of how things will shake out. They want to be surprised, or they want to develop their own theories of things.
Whatever the cause, they don’t want their reading experience compromised or altered in any way by forces other than the book itself.
5. READERS WHO SKIP OR SKIM PASSAGES.
Some readers feel perfectly comfortable skipping whole chapters when the content feels “dull” to them. Sometimes they’ll skip to the end of a really long passage of description that doesn’t hold their interest.
It makes sense not to waste time reading passages you don’t care about. I sometimes wish I could skim/ skip ahead like that, but there’s something about a book that makes me invest in the entire thing if I’m going to read to the end. I’m one of those:
6. READERS WHO FEEL PANICKY IF THEY SKIP ANYTHING.
This is me. This is definitely me. I’ve stopped reading books in the middle before (especially books I couldn’t stand that were assigned for classes in college), but if I plan to read a book through to the last page, you can bet I’m going to read every sentence.
I wish I could say that were due to some kind of pledge to the author. “You wrote this, and I will pay you the courtesy of reading it cover to cover.” It’s not. I’m just terrified of missing something in a boring section that becomes important later on. I’m scared of skipping something and then not being able to understand what happens next.
7. READERS WHO ALWAYS FINISH A BOOK.
This used to be me. The very first book I didn’t finish was “Catcher in the Rye,” because I checked it out from the school library just before the end of the academic year. I thought I would have time to finish it. I didn’t, and I never ended up getting another copy.
After that, being an English major in college made me realize that all the assigned reading for my literature courses was impossible to complete. (One semester I was in 3. 3 lit courses. There’s only so much time!) I learned to prioritize and, yes, to skim: just to be able to participate as fully as possible in class discussions.
So, what does all this mean for writers?
- Readers who are neurotic about keeping track of people and details make fantastic beta readers. If you have an inconsistency, they’ll catch it. “I thought her eyes were blue?” “I thought that staircase led to the hall of the bathroom, not the bedroom?”
- Some non target-audience members might end up skimming parts of your novel if they pick it up. And that’s no big deal, really, if your target audience is gobbling it up and enthralled!
- Don’t be offended if some people pester you for details and spoilers. That doesn’t mean they’re necessarily uninterested in reading. In fact, it might mean quite the opposite.
- You want to make sure you give readers a reason to invest and a purposeful motive to keep reading. Otherwise, some won’t. So make sure to hook ‘em as close to the start as you can.
But enough about writing How do you read? Which of the readers above are you? Do you always finish? Never skip ahead?
Do you know of a category of reader I left out?
MY BIG IDIOSYNCRASY: I cannot stop reading in the middle of a paragraph. I just can’t. That feel so, so incomplete to me. I can put a book down to do something else at the end of any paragraph. But it has to be a complete paragraph. Otherwise I just feel cheated and sad because I have no (temporary) closure!
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