Take the first chapter of your novel, or a short story that you’re working on, and rewrite it twice. First, rework it in an effort to engage a family member, like a parent. Second, rework it to engage a friend, a coworker, or anyone else you feel could be your reader. Be careful to use real people and not a composite of a demographic, like women between the ages of thirty-five and fifty-one. Although that’s the market most likely to buy books, it’s much more effective to put a real face and name to your rewrite.
When you’re finished with the rewrites, compare and contrast your work. Look for places where you’ve shifted the outcome of a scene based on each reader. For example, consider whether you made the lovers reunite because your mother likes happy endings, or you cleaned up the language because you know your good friend doesn’t like vulgarity. Evaluate if these people are the best people to tell your story to. Some stories need to end badly; people often need to curse.
The purpose of this exercise is not to teach you to write to please people, but to help you recognize that real people will read your work and will interpret it based on their own history, personality, and sensibility. While you don’t want to shape your fiction for one person, you do want to understand how to tell your story in a way that will be true to it—and reach the most readers possible. After all, that is the point of writing.
This exercise is from The Constant Art of Being a Writer by N.M. Kelby.
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