by Christine Jarvis, Learner, Writing Workshops

Readers read not for plot, but for company.

That reminder hangs over my computer.

I don’t read fiction to find out what happens, but to meet the people who deal with what happens. Writers whom I invite back more than once are writers I feel comfortable with, writers who create characters I like to spend an afternoon chatting with over a pot of tea or a few glasses of wine. Writers more and more of bygone days more so than modern times (Hermann Hesse, Ayn Rand, Elie Wiesel, Susan Howatch, PD James, George Eliot). Writers who put their characters in situations I can see myself in, or who set their stories in places I’d like to live (the English countryside, coastal Holland, Canada’s prairies. Places with space, a history, salt-of-the-earth people, weather).

I read a bit of fantasy (JK Rowling, The Hobbit, Golden Compass, The Giver) in past years, years when reality was harsh and I wanted to escape for a while, but there’s nothing new to my bookshelves in that category. I have never read horror stories (life was horrible enough back then—why go through it again?). I don’t read sci-fi (my nature and interests lean toward what’s at least plausible), or travelogues (not financially possible for me any longer and other people’s luxuries don’t interest me). I don’t read “teen angst” stuff. Or any-age angst, for that matter. As a teenager I had no time for angst because both parents worked and I was the responsible “home help” so didn’t have time to get in teenage trouble. There were torments enough in the adult years, but why spend my precious time now with characters who bring me down in situations I no longer want to relate to?

There’s a time in people’s lives, I know from experience, when reality has to be endured. I read career books when I was in the work world, for example, and dementia theory for tips on coping with Alzheimer’s when it moved in. I didn’t read the “plan for retirement” books. There was no time to plan—retirement came suddenly for me, and now I’m in it, experience is teaching me all I need and to know.

I’m working on a memoir of the Alzheimer years, because those memories are in me and want out. But otherwise, for that part of the day when I open my door and my mind to the world, I want company. Quiet and pleasant company. That’s what I invite in to read and to write. To anyone who urges me to read / write outside my comfort zone, I say it took me a long time to find and move into that zone. I’m not leaving any time soon.

People who read fiction give you a few hours of their precious time. Don’t make them regret it. Write something substantial, something challenging, something inspiring, something that will get you invited back again. Readers read not for plot, but for company. Write company for somebody.

Christine’s piece was a writing exercise completed in Ann Ireland’s online writing course: ‘Fiction and Non-Fiction Writing’ (CWWR 415).

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