“Reading is a conversation. All books talk. But a good book listens as well.”
– Mark Haddon
It’s an interesting concept. When I read this quote, I asked myself: do my books listen? And then: what exactly does that mean?
Everyone reads through the filter of their own life experience. So perhaps this idea of books listening is about leaving enough room in the story for readers to relate each scene to some experience of their own.
The best books are the ones that make us feel like we are almost part of the story. This requires enough description to bring the scene to life. We also need to understand why things are happening. When a character makes a decision, we need to understand their reasoning. When they do something, we need to understand their motivation.
This can be achieved through techniques such as foreshadowing (giving a hint of something that is to come) and character-building scenes. These give us just enough information so that when the event occurs we already knew it wasn’t going to work out the way the character thought it would, or we feel it’s OK because they deserved that!
By considering what readers might be wondering about in each section, authors can make sure they don’t leave any questions unanswered or loose ends untied.
It seems like a fine line between giving all the information needed to bring the reader into the story and leaving a little room for their own imagination and feelings. I suspect the best, and perhaps only, way to know if a book achieves all this is reader feedback.
Have you read any books that you felt listened? Do you know any authors who do this well?
I’d love to know how other readers and writers interpret this quote!
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