Meet IRA, the Imaginary Reader Anomaly

Author Cynthia Reese has a fun and handy post offering up a secret decoder ring of jargon and acronyms romance writers commonly use when critiquing and discussing their work. I loved reading these and even learned some new ones, such as RUE (resist urge to explain) -- which could save many a writer from a multitude of backstory sins. (Do we really need to know about the heroine's traumatic seventh birthday party, when none of the invitees showed up?)

Years ago, I came up with another concept I found handy: IRA, the Imaginary Reader Anomaly. Good old IRA has long helped me to distance myself from the work by imagining myself seeing it from the point of view of some future reader.

I like to assume IRA is a bright, well-read person, never so stupid that he (not that IRA has a specific gender, but roll with me on the pronoun this time, will you?) needs every little thing spelled out or endlesslessly repeated. But IRA's not omniscient, either. He can't read anything into the prose that isn't actually there, whether or not I meant to write it, plan to write it, or thought about it once. (I could really use IRA's help while editing my latest synopsis.)

Like everyone else, IRA is a busy person, with many distractions, like a litter of yapping, nipping puppies at his ankles. So you have to grab his attention quickly and mercilessly and do your best to hold onto it. But as with most readers, IRA, once hooked, truly wants to believe, so unless you jerk his head out of the story with some jarring factual error or ridiculous motivation, he's right there beside you, along for the ride and willingly suspending disbelief.

As writers, it's important to be able to compartmentalize, to consider the possible responses of others to the work. Thanks to years of experience, I have a whole cast of characters residing in my head, including the voices of several picky but brilliant critique partners (you know who you are!), jaded but eternally-hopeful agents, and exacting editors.

In a way, these imagined readers are characters, but these ones can follow and help guide you through everything you write. And it's not really any stranger than the idea of a muse, is it? So if you find the concept handy, feel free to take out IRA for a spin.


Suzan Harden said…
I definitely need one of those! Though in a pinch, my crit partners serve very well in that function.
Mine is underemployed lately, so consider him on loan! :)
Mylène said…
I need to invest more in my IRA. I either think she's a mind-reader or hammer her over the head repeatedly with the same information. Poor dear.
"Invest more in my IRA..."

Why didn't I think of that? :)

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