Whenever someone asks me for advice on writing, I tell them to always Remember The Reader.
I think a lot of folks, when they’re first sitting down and trying to write, forget that reading and writing should be fun. They start thinking about things they’ve heard in their English classes about Joyce, Nabokov, and Pynchon. Or they forget what it was about books and stories that initially excited them, so they retreat into forms closer to television because those feel familiar and safe. But if the beginner stops and thinks a little about the reader, what the reader expects, what will take the reader out of the story, what will turn the reader off, then the writer will avoid plenty of headache once it is time to start revision.
Now, obviously, readers are different—some will want things a little more literary with subtle symbolism, others will crave wild tales of the supernatural! But if you have an ideal reader in mind, the rest will easily fall into place. I think most readers do not want to be confused. Sometimes a person just starting out with writing will have sentences that get out of hand so the poor reader isn’t sure what is happening. Remember, you won’t be there to explain your obscure and purple prose to everyone—so always aim for clarity.
Most readers also don’t want to feel talked down to. If you’re trying to add some depth to the events and actions of characters by forcing some type of metaphor, you have to pull back and let it stay beneath the surface. Readers are smart. They’ll pick up on all that stuff. This is why a lot of writers advise to just let those things come about organically (i.e. not doing it on purpose) because if you stop the story every other paragraph to point out how clever you are… well then you’re not that clever. And the reader will be annoyed. I also think most readers do not want to be bored. This is 2017. We can watch Rick and Morty on our phones now. Why should anyone pick up your book or short story? This is where I urge people just starting out to revisit the first pieces that really excited them. Was it the crazy action in that spy thriller? The lush language in that short story collection? There was something there that glued you to the page. Think about this. You were a reader before you were a writer. So remember the reader and think about what will keep your ideal reader also glued to the page.
I think all other advice about writing stems out of this generality--Remember The Reader. You want clean sentences to not confuse or bog down the reader. You want relatable and three-dimensional characters because that is who readers will want to spend time with. You want to keep the pacing tight so the reader won’t put you down to watch reality television.
If you remember your reader, you’re already onto a healthy start.
Writer living in the hill country of Texas