The Reader's Choice

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When I teach memoir workshops I often begin by reminding the students that their readers don’t actually care about them. It doesn’t matter that the author is the story’s protagonist, or if the reader can’t put the story down. The reader is only ever truly interested in one person, and that’s herself.

It can be hard to remember because readers love the experience of becoming lost in a story. The more lost the reader becomes, the more she loves that story. As she slips into that dream, as she forgets about her day and her work and chores and obligations, the characters become like new friends. The reader worries and rejoices for the characters’ trials and triumphs. She may even enter the hero’s skin, see through her eyes as if they were her own, lay in her bed, wait for her lover’s call. It is as if reader and hero merge, two tributaries forming a single stream.

If an alien who had never read a story came to earth, he might believe the reader is interested in forgetting herself. If you want to know yourself, why become lost in someone else’s story? The alien would have mistakenly believed the reader is made of all the little details of her daily life, that she is her age and weight and occupation, that she is married or divorced, that she is a mother or a grandmother.

The reader, like the author, is actually something else, something more fluid than those fixed shapes and details. The creative mind, whether it’s reading or writing, can take any form. Its only limitation is perception. If we can see it, if we can imagine it, we can become it, just as water can fill any vessel. Which is why the more lost the reader becomes, the more she forgets all the labels she’s given herself, the more she remembers who she actually is. And as she puts your story down, blinking awake in the twilight between dream and reality, she feels for a moment not the weight of the choices she’s made, but the lightness of all the choices she could make.

She is free.

If you like the ideas and perspectives expressed here, feel free to contact me about individual coaching or group workshops.