READERS and writers – they can’t live without each other.
Mind you, it’s not a balanced relationship. Only the most idealistic writer would wish for a one to one ratio. Most writers prefer as many readers as they can get.
There is a science of sorts in the quest to achieve a wide readership.
Many readers are happy to read rubbish, so a writer who wants to sell lots of books is best advised to conform to expectations and churn out drivel.
There are lots of examples to emulate in the best-seller lists.
However, if you put aside the mercenary aspects, there are a few rules worth following. The most important one is to know who your readers are or who they’re likely to be.
Knowing your readers involves working out what sort of audience you will direct your writing to and determining what you want to tell them or, alternatively, what you think they want to hear from you.
Next you need to work out whether your audience will be big enough to sustain your efforts. There is great satisfaction to be gained if you know that an appreciable number of people are reading what you write.
For a writer from Papua New Guinea, where a home-grown readership is likely to be small, this might mean internationalising your appeal.
Internationalising your writing means making what you write equally understandable to a reader in New York or Addis Ababa as one in Port Moresby or Sydney. This doesn’t mean you need to write like an American or Englishman, that’s globalising, not internationalising.
In Charles Dickens’ time, before the advent of mass media and easy travel, it was necessary for a writer to go into great detail, both in setting and context.
Think about someone in those days writing about Papua New Guinea for an audience in London or Sydney. Every detail about the setting had to be spelled out for readers who mostly had never travelled beyond the confines of their own village or town.
Nowadays, in the information age, you can do the same thing simply by throwing in a few key words to conjure up the image you want in the reader’s mind.
Say the words ‘New Guinea’ and ‘Highlander’ in the same breath and the age of television has done the work for you and there is no need for the laborious expositions that were needed in Dickens’ time.
If you are inclined to include excessive detail in your writing (known as ‘verbiage’ in the trade), you might wonder why people shy away from what you write.
This is not to say that well-targeted and innovative imagery is not appreciated. But there is a fine line between what is exciting to read and what soon becomes tedious.
Writing succinctly and to best effect is known as ‘economy of style’ (think Ernest Hemingway or Cormac McCarthy).
In simple terms it might just mean ditching superfluous adjectives and big words. Adjectives and big words don’t impress readers - they annoy them. The greatest writers use as few words as possible to achieve their ends.
So keep the dictionary and thesaurus stowed in the bottom drawer until you really need them.
A good way to practise economy of style is to write poetry, especially structured poetry that requires deliberation.
If you are an inspiring writer in Papua New Guinea there are several things you need to do.
First, decide what you want to get out of your writing, money or satisfaction. In most cases, and unless you are really good at it, you won’t be able to have both.
Secondly, work out who your audience will be or who you want it to be. Then find out as much about it as you can. If you don’t do this, you’ll be guessing and chances are you won’t guess right.
Thirdly, work out what you need to tell readers so they understand what you are talking about. What you need to think about is the image that will pop into their mind when they read the words you have written. In short, you need to get inside their heads.
And finally, don’t write to impress. The only writers who need to do this are students and academics. If you are writing for a non-academic readership, be humble; don’t talk down to readers – it will work wonders.
Oh! And read. A good reader is a good writer.