Write for one person

Write for one person

The Pulitzer Prize–winning novelist Carol Shields wrote, “A story is something moving to someone else. That is all.”

A story has extra impact when you identify that “someone else.” Shields advised writing for someone in particular. She imagined herself whispering her story into her sister’s ear.

When I wrote my first book, Tracking Giants (coming in spring ‘23), I thought of it as a gift for my dear friend Kate Harris. Kate is a writer, and we met when I acquired what would become her award-winning, bestselling first book, Lands of Lost Borders.

As I wrote my manuscript, I wondered, “What would Kate like to see in this scene? How deep would Kate want me to go here?”

I’d text Kate: “Do you want to read a detailed history of logging protests in British Columbia?” Answer: no.

“Do you want to read about this really embarrassing thing that happened to me while searching for big trees?” Answer: if it adds to the story, yes. (Damnation, Kate.)

Now that I’m working with my publisher to shape marketing copy, I can ask Kate: “What do you think of this copy?” Answer: I love it!

Writing for Kate allowed me to be more vulnerable, to share more details, and tell more cheesy jokes. Kate loves me for who I am, and I allowed that personality to shine through on the page. Early reviewers (not Kate) have told me that the book is “so you, Amanda!” I am trying not to take it personally 😉

In the personal is the universal and all that. If your writing lacks pizazz, consider writing it for just one person. This person might be a close friend, a student, a client, or a neighbour. This person could be living or dead. It’s the difference between teaching a yoga class of 30 students, with different abilities, and teaching a private lesson. If you try to appeal to everyone, you will appeal to no one.

One response to “Write for one person”

  1. This is such an important message to remember, and I admit, I struggle with finding the balance sometimes, because I end up pandering to the crowd instead of to one person. It’s important to have our ideal reader in mind, even if it’s ourselves. Anyway, thanks for this post!


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