I'm currently reading Pat Conroy's The Lords of Discipline for the WSJ book club, and I think this may be my favorite Conroy novel to date. I've been highlighting like crazy on my Kindle, and today, this passage jumped out at me:
It's a sentiment I can identify with, to a certain degree. I didn't start riding horses because I felt inadequate, as Will suggests here, but I did begin to identify myself with my horsemanship. I was always meek and shy, but once I laced up my boots and walked down the barn aisle, I was a confident, capable adult before my time. There are moments when I think that I lean too heavily on my identity as a writer. And I for sure still feel that frisson of energy when I'm at the barn, in my element.
But the point of this post is this: You never know what's going to resonate with a reader.
As a reader, I love those moments in a book where I feel like the author is speaking directly to me. Those are moments of "Yes! That! Exactly that!" The moments when it seems that an author who lives in a different city, a different state, a different country, who lives a different life from you, says something that touches on your own reality. That's amazing. That's the cool shiver of human connection across oceans and generational gaps. That is magic.
Likewise, that same author, through his or her characters, will share sentiments that you may not share, but which are no less real. Sentiments you feel closer to after having come to "know" someone who thinks this way - even if he or she is fictional.
So when you're a writer, that's the challenge: to create scenarios that readers will respond to with something real and raw. You want your readers to feel that cold chill, that hot rush. You want them to say, "Yes, I've felt that."
Inevitably, there will be detractors. But it isn't a case of the writer being "wrong." It's a case of the detractor having no frame of reference. My message to writers is this: write a truth. Write your truth. Write your character's truth. Because that's a reader's truth, and you never know which line will resonate with which reader. Never worry about the nay-sayers who systematically downgrade your work. I never do - I listen to the sweet words of fans who were touched for the better by my characters. Write the story that you need to tell - you never know who it might help.