In his 2000 craft book On Writing, Stephen King says,
I don’t believe a story or a novel should be allowed outside the door of your study or writing room unless you feel confident that it’s reasonably reader-friendly. You can’t please all of the readers all of the time, but you really ought to try to please at least some of the readers some of the time.
There are so many reasons to write.
To get something off your chest. To explore your fears, your dreams, your imagination. To get a story written down that you feel the world simply needs to read.
When it comes to your fiction writing, you can write whatever you want. If gruesome horror stories are your jam, go for it. If a cozy mystery makes you happy, then by all means, write fifty of them. If you like to write erotica, or westerns, or science fiction, or all three, get started today and not tomorrow.
Write, write, write to your heart’s content!
There are so many reasons to write, and there are also so many things to keep in mind before, during, and after your writing sessions. You want to think about your story and how it progresses. You want to think about your characters and how they develop. You want to think about pacing, structure, themes. There’s so much to keep in mind.
But one other thing you should think about as you navigate the world of fiction writing? Whether you’re writing short stories or novels, please keep this in mind…
Make sure your story is reader-friendly.
Now this is not the same thing as having your story ready to read for readers in terms of revision and proofreading and things like that. No matter what you write, yes, it should be reasonably revised and proofread and typo-free and all that good stuff.
What reader-friendly means is that your story should be compelling for the average reader. There should be something about your story that captivates many, if not exactly all, potential readers of your work.
This is why genre is such a great place to work in when you’re a writer. To write specifically thrillers, or military novels, or romance books.
You always know there are millions of readers out there for each particular major genre.
If you want to write strictly literary novels, or maybe blend genres into something totally unique unto you, then you might find it harder for your stories to be reader-friendly. If you want to write something super complex and weird and off-the-wall strange, it will be all the more difficult to get readers to be open to your story.
This is not to say that your stories should be formulaic.
You might think of writing reader-friendly stories to mean that you need to be predictable, formulaic, obvious. Give the readers what they want and everyone will be happy!
Not so fast. It’s not enough to just give readers exactly what they want.
That might work for a story or two, but your writing will get stale after awhile, and no potential reader of yours is going to want that.
What you should do instead is write stories that are reasonably reader-friendly, with a premise and characters and themes that can translate to great reader interest, while at the same time delivering something each and every time that is original, unique… and totally mind-blowing.
You want to write a story will at least somewhat meet the readers’ expectations while at the same give them something new and amazing.
So, yes, you need to think of both extremes while writing your short story or novel.
Keep your readers’ expectations in mind on one end of the spectrum, but do your own thing completely on the other end of the spectrum.
Don’t waste your time writing something nobody will ever want to read.
However, don’t write something that necessarily everybody in the world will want to read either. As Stephen King says, you can’t please all of the readers all the time, but you should try to please some of the readers some of the time.
Write what you love, write in the genre that gives you passion, make sure your stories are at least somewhat reader-friendly.
And at the same time, don’t be afraid to take risks!