7 Different Types of Readers: Which Do You Write For?

S1207951_woman_reading_at_homeometimes 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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69 responses to “7 Different Types of Readers: Which Do You Write For?

  1. Like you, I cannot stop in the middle of a paragraph. In fact, I have to stop at the end of the page, otherwise my eyes don’t ‘reajust’ to where I was when I return. As for my general reading experience, I’m mostly a #3. Give me all of the information! xD I’m like that for movies, too.

    I love betas who are, as you say, “neurotic about keeping track of people and details,” but it’s not something I, for all I wish I would, actually do when reading for pleasure. Sometimes I just take the characters as they are in the current scene.

  2. Great post! I don’t think about the types of readers when I’m writing so this is interesting.

    I fall under three categories – I focus on characters, I hate spoilers and I always read every single word, no matter how dull! It’s partly out of a love for words, I enjoy the way a sentence flows and if it doesn’t flow then I like to figure out what I would do differently.

    And I can’t stop reading in the middle of a paragraph either! Like Miss Alexandrina, I usually have to finish the page, or preferably the chapter.

  3. I’m definitely one of these. I hate myself when my eyes involuntarily slide down the page during a tense part of the story to see where we are going. I don’t know why I do it, because I love tension and surprises, but I just do it. I’m still trying to break the habit…

  4. Like you I’m definitely #6. And like you I used to be #7. I was always careful about the book I chose and always finished them. But since getting my Kindle a few years ago and picking up some lemons off Amazon and Smashwords, I’m not as reluctant to abandon a book any more.
    In fact I used to think there was a kind of pledge to the authour to finish. I wrote a post loosely based on this entitled “Worship the Journey” named after a bike shop in Melbourne.

  5. I’m totally a 1 and a 5. Heh. Really interesting post!
    :)

  6. I write for #1 and I’m pretty sure that’s the type of reader I am. One of the reasons I’ve never read the Hunger Games series is because all of my friends told me Katniss doesn’t really evolve. They’ve heard me complain when I reach the end of a book and the protagonist is no different than when he or she started. I love characters with flaws and growth, which will help me get through a tepid story.

  7. I try to write a well rounded story that has both action and character depth, and keeps the reader from feeling a need to skip parts. I have to finish a book once I start it, unless the editing is just so bad I can’t get through it. i read the same way, looking for a well paced story that can hold my interest in both character development and plot movement.

    • I like your point here about balance between character and action. That’s important for MOST authors and MOST stories. Can you write a character study? Sure. But that kind of story won’t appeal to many people. Maybe that doesn’t matter to the people who write character studies. But like you, I prefer balance and strive for that.

  8. I never skip ahead. It seems like cheating to me, much like the author telling rather than showing, and cheating the reader out of experiencing the scene for himself or herself. I love suspense, so I hate spoilers!! I want to go on the journey with the character, I want to experience the sights, sounds and smells that the characters do. If I were to rush through that, I would be missing something important. Mystery and suspense is my preferred genre, so to spoil that suspense would ruin the excitement of the reading experience. I am also one that likes to read the book completely. I find it hard to quit reading a book in the middle. I can only think of two that I have abandoned, and one was really disappointing to me, especially since it was the last book of a 6 book series. It was horrible. I don’t usually say that ever about a hard work of fiction, but she started out enthralling and the first 4 were fantastic, the 5 was good, but definitely going downhill, and the 6th and final was so repetitious and boring, I just couldn’t get through it. This is from a famous author too–traditionally published and the first book was also a movie. I was not the only one, she only received an average of 3 stars for the final book. I really felt cheated. So much so, that I had checked this book out from the library (thankfully!), and I renewed it 9 times!! I kept hoping if I tried to plunge through it that it would get better. I just couldn’t do it. The second one was for a review, and I couldn’t get a handle on characters, there were so many introduced at once, and no development to distinguish them from one another. It was also an incredibly technical sci-fi book, and not my cup of tea to begin with. So I had to write back to the author and tell him that I couldn’t finish so I wouldn’t be reviewing it. That is a policy of mine as a reviewer. If I haven’t read it from cover to cover, I won’t review it. That is not fair either. If I am going to give my assessment on a book, it is only fair that I have the entire book contents to go by., I guess I am really a stckler for a sense of fairplay! :)

    • I love that reviewing policy: it’s only fair to read the whole book if you’re going to review, I think. That goes for anyone. No one says a reviewer has to finish every book he or she plans to review, of course. Just don’t review those you don’t finish. I agree, that’s a sense of fair play. :-) And we’re alike in how we generally try to finish books!

  9. I’m definitely number one. When I read the characters become so real that I’ve flown into fits of rage and almost stopped reading a book when the author has multiple character pov’s and leaves me hanging for a long time, aka Game of Thrones (I want to know about Arya!). Or when the die, it feels like a small part of me burns at the stakes with them.

    I also have a bit of number five in me. After hours of reading, I start to get impatient with long descriptions and start looking for the dialogue, or personal thoughts. It’s all about the character with me.

    I’ve always finished a book, but I haven’t always finished a series. Why? Because mid-series the author introduced new main characters, and sidelined the old batch of main characters! Months later, and I still can’t get back into that series.

    Really enjoyed this post Victoria!

    • Glad you liked it! I really like your point about finishing a book versus finishing a series. I hadn’t thought of that comparison/contrast at all, but it makes total sense. They are different things. I have some series I have started as well, and not read past book one (Eragon) or two.

      I’m also really glad to know I’m not the only one who loves character studies and the psychology behind it and the introspection/reflection it brings about in me!

      • Eragon completely slipped my mind. I’ve read all of Christopher Paloni’s books except the last one, because he’s change in style/voice was too much for me to accept.

        Yes, a good book is one with powerful character psychology. But not so heavy that it becomes an analysis of the psychological implications of everyday activities. (Books along the lines of Wuthering Heights do that. Great book but hard read, especially back in high school).

        • Wuthering Heights is a great book but SOOO creepy!! It’s actually one of two books my best English teacher in high school said we should reread in our twenties. The other was “Cry, the Beloved Country.”

  10. I love this post–it adds a new dimension I may want to think about in my writing.
    I think I’m one of the skippers; I have a whole blog dedicated to why I don’t finish certain books!

  11. I like to read the last page of a book. I also at times will skip entire sections that feel too long and drawn out. Now if I enjoy a book enough I have no problem going back and reading it again.

    But then I also love to see how magic tricks are done. The craft and artistry that goes in to making them work is part of the magic of the trick for me.

  12. I’m one of the Definitely No Spoilers kind of people. I watch movie trailers *after* I’ve watched the movie :). But your analysis was spot on. It will really help when I’m writing. Thanks so much!

  13. I fit into a few of these. I usually care more about plot than characters but in the end I always reflect on the characters and how they changed, always in retrospect. I hate hearing spoilers beyond half of the plot because it does ruin the whole thing for me. I get super panicky if I skip anything, even dialogue tags. And I always finish books. There was one time I stopped reading a book and I ended up getting the audiobook six months later and finishing it then. I was too uncomfortable leaving it unfinished.

    • I don’t usually worry as much as you about finishing a book, but like you I definitely don’t like to skip things if I plan to finish it (and it’s not something school is just forcing me to read, but something I’m enjoying). It’s funny how some preferences overlap and others don’t among different readers! :-)

  14. I can’t really think of any that you left out, this list seems comprehensive. I actually can’t identify with one type of reader, as I bet most people probably couldn’t, but find I’m a mixture of many of them.

    It’s crazy that, as authors, we put so much of our lives and our hearts into writing, and are completely unable to control the outcome, because that’s based entirely on our readers and what ‘type’ of readers they are. (To some extent). I find that crazy. And fascinating. And probably just like every other artistic career based on perception :)

    • You’re so right!!! I think we all write for ourselves, try to craft a story that we love that develops as we would like it to develop as readers. That’s all we can do. And not all readers read the way we do or share our preferences.

      You are so right that we are all, to different degrees, mixes of the different types of readers. I know I am!

  15. Definitely, “character.” My characters drive my stories and dictate the plots. I get all caught up in their lives…maybe too much so. Often, I have to shut them up, or I run the risk of drowning in internal dialogue. As a reader, if the characters don’t engross me–if I don’t care what happens to them or how their stories are going to turn out–I will stop reading a book. Other than that, I can usually stick with any novel, unless it’s poorly written.

  16. As a reader, I’m a skimmer. I’ll skip if I think a subplot has gone off into boring land or if the author switches between too many characters too often. I also read for character — but not literary.

    As a writer, I go for the character, but I’m not literary, because I like to pull in the action side of things.

  17. I am an unapologetic skimmer who means no disrespect to the author. Even in a book that has me totally enthralled, my pace of reading and the pace the author creates can be slightly out of sync. A quick skim of a passage that feels too slow or redundant makes me a happier reader. PS: I share the same idiosyncrasy about stopping in the middle of a paragraph. Just say no! :)

  18. Great post. We so often talk about readers in general terms, or just in terms of the genres they like, that it’s easy to forget that we read in different ways, and that as writers we need to plan for this.
    Personally I’m a lot like you – very seldom leave a book incomplete, however bad it is, and can’t stop mid-paragraph.

  19. I’m numbers 1 and 6, for sure. And I think when writing, I pretty much try to create something that I would like, so I guess that’s who I write for, too… Interesting to think about! Cool post as always, Victoria.

  20. Pingback: Top Picks Thursday 12-12-2013 | The Author Chronicles

  21. I’m #1 and #6 (and I have to finish a paragraph before putting a book down, too). I also used to be #7, but now I allow myself to put down books that don’t grab me. I think it’s interesting to think about what kind of reader I’m writing for. I definitely focus on characters, but try to have an exciting plot too.

  22. These different types of readers are not something I’d really thought about, although I’m sure I’ve been aware of them. I had a friend who, when buying a book, always flipped to the end and read the last page. I was absolutely horrified the first time I saw her do this, but she won’t read a book unless she knows how it’s going to end. I’d never do this. I read a book from cover to cover, unless it’s so bad or so boring that I just can’t finish it. It’s very rare for me to come across such a book, but it has happened on a few occasions.
    In a writer’s group once we were discussing prologues–whether to use them. I asked how many in the group skipped a prologue when reading a novel. I was absolutely amazed when the majority of the group raised their hands. I can’t imagine skipping a prologue, because it usually gives important background information, sets the stage, or raises a question that will be answered in the novel, sometimes not until the very end. But the experience in that group of writers, taught me to use prologues sparingly and eliminate them if at all possible.

    • I’m like you …. I can’t imagine skipping a prologue!!! Just because it’s not “Chapter One” doesn’t mean it doesn’t have interesting or important information :-) And I’d NEVER read the end first either. NEVER! Wow…. I don’t get that when people do it, though it’s not that uncommon I don’t think.

  23. That’s an interesting take. I’m exactly the same as you, Victoria. I can’t skip sections and would rather abandon a book half way through. I’ve no idea why, though!

  24. Generally, I hate spoilers but if I have concerns about a book I’ll read them. I’d rather not waste my time with something that I’d hate. Like you say, only so much time to read. I only commit to a book if it’s a review request. Otherwise I put it down when it becomes intolerable.

  25. You forgot two of the most important types of readers, those who leave 1-star no-read ratings and reviews maliciously to try and destroy the reputations, livelihood and careers of writers. This is a specialty of goodreads members. And let’s not forget the attack review that doesn’t address a book at all but is a personal attack on an author a specizalty of Amazon. Both website are aware of these problem but refuse to do a thing, in fact they encourage such activity because they rely on fake ratings and reviews and incorporate this fraudulent data in their APIs thereby misleading and deceiving bookseller and consumers. These type of readers are by far the most active.

    • I am hardly active at all on Goodreads because I have heard about malicious reviews. So sad…. A site with so much potential! I am all for the right of someone to leave a bad review when they have read a book and didn’t like it, or tried to read it and could not get through it, but maliciousness isn’t really necessary. Ever. I am happy to say every review I’ve received, good and bad alike, has been respectful of ME as a person. So I can’t personally complain. People have every right not to like my books and to say so.

    • In regard to malicious reviews: I addressed this issue in one of my blogs after learning about a vicious attack on a novel by one of these “haters.” The cyber-bullying started on Goodreads and then culminated in a YouTube video. (How do you recover from that?) It’s one thing not to like an author’s work; it’s another to trash someone’s book just for “sport.”

  26. I thought this was a very interesting post. Unlike a lot of people here and a lot of authors in general I will skim over physical details of characters and settings. Visualizing never really mattered to me. I cared way more about getting inside a characters head and experiencing their thoughts, emotions, and relationships then looking on the outside. It is something I developed at such a young age that I didn’t even realize I was doing it until I took a high school English course in which I was asked questions about the appearance of the setting. It left with a problem when I started to write, but I have been slowly working on it.

    • This is such a unique approach to reading and it really makes sense to me…. the person they are matters more than what they look like, right? Normally, I mean, when you’re not talking about a police thriller with descriptions from witnesses of the perp, for instance.

      I do this to a lesser degree, I think, but I still do it. I’m not sure why, but I never pictured Fleur Delacour from the Harry Potter books as blonde. Never did. :-)

  27. After reading this, I feel as though you and I are the same person. I was starting to wonder if I was the only paragraph-reader out there.

    For me, however, it has advanced to page ending. I need to read up to the end of the next paragraph, on the next page. So I know exactly where I left off.

    But really, good evaluation :) I enjoyed it, and it is helpful to understand that not everyone reads a book like I do.

  28. The word “science” is not used on the entire page. So there is no mention of the possibility of using “science fiction” for learning while including entertainment and escapism.

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