Wednesday, February 12, 2014

The Process - How I Create A Readers' Guide

Readers' guides are kind of amazing to create. You have the opportunity to place yourself in the heads of hundreds, thousands of potential readers and attempt to figure out what will intrigue them the most about this book you have the pleasure of reading. 

It's also kind of scary. Because, you don't want to overlook a thing. 

The balance of the two makes the entire experience addictive. 

After I get an electronic version of the book - since shipping overseas is too much of a hassle - I decide if my notes/questions will be handwritten or typed into a Word document. This mostly depends on my mood, but I find that handwriting and then copying this information onto the computer forces me to analyze and question everything an extra time. 

Once I start reading, I write notes about events in the book that catch my attention, copy down quotations that are poignant and have the potential to start interesting conversations, jot down skeletal versions of the more fully fleshed questions that are found in the final version, and I always allow my mind to wander outside of the book and find connections between this book world and the world around me. 

Since I do all this while reading, I try to maintain a balance between critical analysis of the novel, and pure enjoyment of the material. I don't want to lose the pure wonderment, excitement readers will feel when they read the book. I want this feeling to come through in every question. But at the same time, I want these initial feelings to lead to critical, philosophical discussions, debates, and conversations. The best books are the ones that linger not only in the heart, but in the mind. 

I try to conjure up, at the most, thirty questions. I do this in order to allow cutting of questions, more room for editing and conversation between myself and the writer, and as a personal challenge. This challenge forces me to break down what I am reading even further and dig for those golden nuggets of inquiry. My favorites are the ones that come when I think I have nothing left in me - that I have drained this material to the bone. I usually unearth these kinds of questions when I am away from the material: cooking dinner or doing laundry. 

Once I finish reading the novel, I hone and chisel my questions and create new ones from the notes I have taken. I also re-read parts of the book which I feel did not get covered enough. When I am satisfied with my efforts, I send them off to the writer for review. 

I completely expect and welcome further edits and cutting of questions when the writer gets back to me. I kind of love this part of the process the most. It reveals to me where I hit the mark, and where I fell flat. Where I got the essence of a scene, and when I just missed the entire point. I tend to respond quickly to these notes from the writer because I want to maintain the freshness of these questions in our minds. I want the creative juices to keep flowing. 

When we both sign off on the final version of the questions after a few emails back and forth, it becomes an official readers' guide and it is no longer mine. 

It is the reader's.