Authors want to manipulate readers’ thoughts — this is why we read, after all. We love getting swept away into new worlds, with new people and ideas. Getting a reader’s thought map is a great way to hone this skill.
If you give your book to a favorite reader, wouldn’t you love to hear the running thought commentary while she reads? What are her impressions? What does she like? What scenes stir up the most emotions? Are they the right emotions? Does she suffer flickers of confusion or find parts unreadable?
You could be opening Pandora’s box or witnessing a firework of compliments. Likely, it will be a mix, and no matter what the reactions, think what you would learn!
A reader’s thought map
Short of being telepathic, this kind of transfer of thoughts can be done by asking for a reader’s “thought map.” A thought map can be engineered any way you like, but this post lays out some ideas. They all involve precision editing via markups placed in the text.
Ad hoc comments
A great way for a reader to decorate a text with his thoughts is to add comments. Comments could mark something great or something that triggered confusion. It could just be a running narrative of what the reader is thinking at any one point, or specifically at key points when a lot is revealed.
Such expressive reading narratives are often eye-opening for authors. “She was thinking what? I totally need to re-work the two previous scenes!”
Suspension of disbelief map
A reader should also mark where he achieved suspension of disbelief, as well as any time that suspension diminished. Ideally, suspension of disbelief should occur early and persist.
Scene quality map
Stories turn on scenes. You can learn a lot if a reader pauses to give feedback on bigger chunks of text and how they compare to the rest of the read. A reader can simply mark the quality of each scene — is it exceptional, passable, slow, or skippable?
Red pen praising
The reader should go out of her way to mark the best of what she reads. Red pen praising gives the author a gold standard. Red might be used to highlight a word, a phrase, an image, a superb scene or a major plot point. Analysis of a red praise map can be used to optimize the next draft.
Text that is ready for publication can be marked in green. “Greenlighted” text is what you want most. Green text with lots of red highlights is enviable.
In contrast to red and green, any problematic text can be highlighted in blue. The sentiment of blue is sad, (as in “singing the blues”), but it’s also the color associated with calm seas and clear skies. Don’t despair. These annotations often point to the best lessons. Causes of marred text could be anything from muddiness due to mixed messages, details that seem inauthentic or unbelievable, or anything else that jars. Learning to fix them will help you turn your weaknesses into strengths.
Yellow, purple, and gray
It’s also possible to use more colors. Perhaps yellow for text that seems to lack bravery. Often writers hold off from writing about difficult things, putting characters in too much peril, or making a character truly unlikable. Purple text could signify “purple prose,” where word choice and syntax complexity veers into florid and awkward. Gray could mark text best headed for the chopping block.
A good reader or editor can pick up on the patterns that distinguish your writing. Marking them can help you strengthen them or simply bring patterns to your attention. A great beta reader will also annotate broken patterns.
Perhaps the most helpful type of thoughts involve ways to add something to the text that is not already there. These are often the least likely improvements for an author to come to on his own.
These suggestions fall into the class of thoughts on “heightening” your text. Heightening might involve adding more detail to flesh out the story, presenting existing content more creatively, or adding sensory language to make a scene come to life.
Now it’s possible to step back and see where you stand in successfully manipulating your kind reader. Did you succeed? Does it tell you what you expected, or do you find serious surprises?
These suggestions tackle the small and the big of a draft and can give you a map of successful manipulation. If the draft is almost all green with lots of red highlights, you’ve done extremely well. If it has little red and green but lots of blue, it needs development.
More red and less blue is the key to great writing. Lean towards what’s working and chop the rest. Use the other annotations as guides. Make all your scenes exceptional and make sure you suspend readers’ disbelief early and keep it that way to the end.
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Red Pen Praising: The Best Thing You Can Do For A Writer
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Green-light editing: What makes publication-quality text?
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