Why You Have To Give Your Readers What They Want


When I was in high school, I had a small group of girlfriends. We used to live on a diet on what were called ‘bonkbusters’ – an 80s feast of sex, shopping, and romance from novelists like Judith Krantz, Shirley Conran, and Jackie Collins.

One day, egged on by my friends, I started to write my own – a soap-like saga bashed out on my sister’s portable typewriter with recycled computer paper my dad brought home from work.

This smutty opus was called ‘Bedrooms’ – because the trend then was to have a single title like ‘Lace’ or ‘Scruples.’ Soon the pages were piling up and chapters were being passed around in class from one greedy hand to another.

My friends, who were all the inspirations for my glamorous characters, would give me editorial notes. ‘Make me bitchier, richer,’ they’d say, ‘give me a hot boyfriend, a bigger penthouse.’ And because these were high school girls, the most consistent request was, ‘More sex!’

I’d go home, haul out my sister’s typewriter, and comply with their outrageous demands.  I never had to worry about what to write next – they were telling me. It was a bit like a patchwork quilt. I kept adding and adding and I never finished the book.

But writing that book was a great lesson to me – perhaps one that I’ve forgotten. You have to write to an audience – genre if you like – and you have to write to entertain. We’re storytellers. We have to keep them turning the pages. It’s our only job.

If you want to learn how to write a book, join our Writers Write course in Johannesburg.

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This article has 1 comment

  1. Ward Jones

    There are more than one audience. Yes, there are a large number of people who like the kind of short story that Curtis Sittenfeld wrote in the current New Yorker. It’s about the social media, Facebook, Instagram, Tumblr, Pinterest, the short messages that arouse emotions, as our current president did so successfully. With short messages, come short attention spans, but that doesn’t mean the death of deliberation, concentration. Scientists work for years to solve a problem with a sustained purpose, as do doctors, and lawyers. We use our minds, writers of novels especially. I’ve spent three years on my latest and have another few months to go. One of many, I’m sure. Books that will be remembered.

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