The Voice of Audience

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The act of writing a story is a solitary endeavour; storytelling, however, is not.

I’ve heard a lot of jokes and commentary, lately, about the process of writers, and likening them to trolls under a bridge that resent the noisesome progression of the goats above them. Writers, apparently, are supposed to sit in small rooms, writing big stories, and remain aloof and apart from their audience. Interaction and audience involvement, I’m told, ruins the writer and buggers up his story. Don’t take anything your audience says to heart, I’ve heard, because it is your story, and they don’t know what they’re talking about anyway.

I have two words to sum up the above notions: “Bull” and “Shit.”

You can write in solitary confinement, locked away from the rest of the world, until your fingers start to bleed and your ass goes numb, and that is fine. But storytelling requires that you ‘tell’ that story to someone, which requires you to interact with the outside world. Once your story is complete you have to share it with people; whether you get it published and present it to a wide audience, or slip it quietly to your mum so no one else sees, that story needs to be ‘told’ to complete the cycle.

Audience feedback and criticizm is a big part of the life of a published author, whether you are tiny and just starting out like me, or selling a few million copies of each book. We crave positive feedback from the people who read our stories, be they strangers or dear friends, but rail against anyone who says anything negative about our writing.

This, to my mind, is integral to the craft of storytelling. When you get positive feedback it tells you what works. When you get negative feedback it lets you know what isn’t working quite right. It allows you to examine your work through another point of view, and helps you hone your skills as a storyteller.

There will be, of course, people who say negative things just for the sake of spreading discord and being a pain in the ass, and will have no basis or examples for their hatred. This is the kind of criticism you should ignore; to paraphrase Sam Sykes: Some people are just assholes.

So, as I go along through the writing life, I revel in the positive comments, think about the negative ones, and ignore the people who are just trying to piss on my campfire. That feedback, I think, is critical to making my next story better than the last one.

Remember that your audience is important. It is very true that you need to write your story for you, but when that phrase is said it is geared more towards the idea that you have to write a story you are passionate about, and avoid chasing any kind of story market (if someone tells you to put zombies in your story because it would sell better, feel free to poke them in the eye with your index finger). Once your story is told, the voice of your audience will give you the feedback you need to examine it with a ‘sober second sight’ and make the next story a little better.

Remember something else: If you put a story out there, and everyone who reads it tells you it sucks, it might not be them who are wrong. Just saying…

Thanks for reading. There is more to come.