I wasn’t familiar with Virginia Woolf’s “How Should One Read a Book?” when I stumbled across the essay online. But I’ve been reading and blogging about how we read so it caught my attention. I didn’t get the same thing out of it as the original commentator. That person was all about coming at your reading with an open mind. Don’t be swayed by criticism and literary theorists.
But that’s okay. Because I went at it with an open mind and this is the section that really jumped out at me.
“Yet few people ask from books what books can give us. Most commonly we come to books with blurred and divided minds, asking of fiction that it shall be true, of poetry that it shall be false, of biography that it shall be flattering, of history that it shall enforce our own prejudices. If we could banish all such preconceptions when we read, that would be an admirable beginning. Do not dictate to your author; try to become him. Be his fellow-worker and accomplice.”
As a reader, attempt to become the writer’s accomplice. What that means for writers is that we should leave the way open for our readers. We should invite them into this relationship and leave space for them to make our writing their own. Fortunately, there are numerous ways to do this.
Create an open ending. While I’m not wildly enthusiastic about open endings, some authors do them well. Check out how Sandra Havriluk does it in her flash story, “Five Words.” The story doesn’t just end. She leads the reader right up to the denouement and then let’s her come to her own conclusion.
Show, Don’t Tell. Especially when you write for children, you are told not to preach. It is fine to teach but your lesson needs to be covert. Give the reader the facts and let her draw her own conclusion. That’s what Duchess and I did in Black Lives Matter. We gave information on how and why the movement began but we still give both sides. Some readers fail to appreciate that but, personally, I think it’s why the book is on its third printing. We give information but it is up to the reader to do something with it.
Engage the Reader. Another way to make the reader your accomplice is to invite her to take up a challenge. What can your young reader do to save the tall grass prairies or the polar bears? After writing about monumental issues like these, give the reader something that she can do. Your piece will be more engaging and enticing for both readers and editors.
After all, you have to lure them in before they can become your oh so willing accomplices.