Objectivity and Distance: What experience are you giving your reader?

cheusepromoWriting is a very insular activity. We ask writers to write in solitude, spend hours alone contemplating their thoughts and their story.

However, there comes a time when you need to give yourself some objectivity. Can you take a break from being the creator and pretend for a moment you are a reader without insider information?

Writers have a lot of pressure to deliver a manuscript that is true to their integrity and a great experience for their reader. Whether it’s an agent, editor, or the mass market: Will your reader be entertained? Will they learn something about the world or themselves? Will they enjoy this book?

Intentional or not, writers are providing the reader with an ‘experience’ I like to call it. You are inviting a reader into the world you’ve created. You need to make sure it’s a whole and comprehensive world that readers want to spend time in. It’s hard to see this sometimes when you’re entranced in the writing process. But at some point you need to take an objectivity pill and stand back to evaluate whether you’ve given this meaningful and entertaining experience to the reader.

Questions to ask yourself for objectivity and improvement:

  • Does the beginning start when the story actually starts or when the first idea came about in your head?
  • Are my characters likeable?
  • Will readers like to follow my main character’s journey because it’s interesting?
  • Where does the pace lag? How can I improve my pace for my reader?
  • Am I too close to my characters? Do I know how to make the stakes higher by putting them in more difficult situations?
  • Have I spent enough time away from my manuscript to increase my distance from it?
  • Have I put down on the page all I know in my end (i.e. what characters look like, their backstory, etc.)
  • Is my voice clear?
  • Do my characters sound like real people?

The answer for how to do these things are the following:

  1. Take a break from your manuscript – For some it might be a week, for others a month, but step away from the document for a while to gain some perspective.
  2. Have a trusted reader take a look – Here’s where your beta readers, hired external editor, or agent comes in. Sometimes you really are too close to it to tell.

And if you still need some perspective then there are bigger questions to ask, namely “Why is this not working?”

Gaining objectivity and distance is about intuition as much as writing skill. Listen to story: Where does it feel clunky? Why doesn’t certain dialogue sound right? What’s holding back characters from developing?

Ask the tough questions of yourself. Give yourself space away from your work to get a list of questions and if you can’t find them or solve them, get another set of eyes on your work. Your readers will thank you–and not even know it.

Image via Priscilla Nielsen for NPR

Published by Carly Watters

Carly Watters is a SVP, senior literary agent and director of literary branding with the P.S. Literary Agency. She is a hands-on agent that develops proposals and manuscripts with attention to detail and the relevant markets. PSLA’s mission is to manage authors’ literary brands for their entire career. Never without a book on hand she reads across categories which is reflected in the genres she represents and is actively seeking new authors in including women’s fiction, commercial and upmarket fiction, select literary fiction, platform-driven non fiction and select memoir. She occasionally represents children's book projects. Carly is drawn to emotional, well-paced narratives, with a great voice and characters that readers can get invested in.

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