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Readers, You Are The Gatekeepers Of Great Writing

In an age of digital and self-publishing, we have met the story gatekeepers, and they are us.
| Nov 20, 2015 | 3 comments |

Tuesday’s post on weak construction in fiction writing peels back the veil a little to give you a peek at exactly how mundane a writer’s job can be. The incredible thing, though, is how much those little details—words, and syntax, and things—affect the people and the worlds we meet on the page of a finished story.

Sort of like how, right now, millions of tiny little proteins and neurons and things are at work in your cells, and they’re all making up the you I had coffee with last week.

God is a master artisan, that much is obvious. Writers are just blundering along in his footsteps.

But this isn’t a website for writers. It’s a website for readers. How does all this apply to you?

Let me tell you a story

Heimdall from "Thor" (2011)

Heimdall from Thor (2011)

Once upon a time, publishing was controlled by gatekeepers. (Not as cool as the gatekeeper who guards the Bifrost in Thor, I’m sorry to say.) A relatively small group of people controlled printing presses and distribution, and more importantly money, and so they decided whose work got into print and whose didn’t.

This got us a mixed bag of results. On the one hand, gatekeepers do ensure a measure of quality. On the other hand, not much Christian speculative fiction got published (because who would ever buy that?)

Then along came the Internet, social media, Kindle, print-on-demand, etc., and the old world was just pretty much blown to smithereens overnight. I mean, it’s still there. But nobody has to pay attention to it anymore.

But here’s the thing about this new world we’re living in, boys and girls: we have met the gatekeepers, and they are us.

Which might imply a level of responsibility.

You have the power

(I was going to write “you have power,” but “you have the power” sounds way cooler for some reason.)

Call me old-fashioned, but I still believe quality should matter when it comes to the books we read. There’s a tendency in Christian circles (I know it’s been discussed here many times) to give anything a pass as long as it “preaches the gospel” in some way, never mind whether it’s “good fiction” or not. Who needs resonance, and poetry, and profound characterization, and all that rot? Just give us a sermon and package it up like a story so we can fool our neighbors into listening to it.

(I contend it’s not usually our neighbors reading that stuff anyway, but I digress.)

I’m not actually calling on you here to start dissing poorly written fiction. Actually, the best thing to do with poor writing is ignore it. But when you find something really good? When you come across a writer whose prose sings? Whose characters live? Whose stories make you ask questions and shake yourself and walk around with a stutter for three days because you’re trying to process it all?

Tell somebody. Share a review. You have no idea the power of an Amazon review to help a book get traction. Yes, buy a book and give it to your neighbor. (They might actually read it.) Thank the author for taking the time really write.

Don’t become critical. But become a critic. Think about what you read. Take time to appreciate cadence and word choice and the beauty of sentences.

I quoted Annie Dillard on Tuesday, saying that to become a writer you have to love sentences. But I think a lot of readers love them too.

Rachel Starr Thomson

Novelist and 12 Fatal Flaws of Fiction Writing coauthor Rachel Starr Thomson

So spread the love.

Here’s looking at you

Of course I can’t leave this blog behind without practicing what I preach. So here’s to you, Jeffrey Overstreet, George Bryan Polivka, Anne Elisabeth Stengl, Stephen R. Lawhead, Tracy Groot, Patrick W. Carr, Marc Schooley, Lars Walker, Andrew Peterson, and a lot more of you. Some of you are writing a lot, and some of you I haven’t seen around in a while. But thanks for your love of sentences and your attention to words. I hope we’ll see more from you soon.

Rachel Starr Thomson is the author of eighteen novels, all of them in the Christian speculative fiction genre. As an editor and writing coach, she has helped writers achieve their best work for over a decade—so she's thrilled to contribute to The Writer's Toolbox series, which gives fiction writers everything they need to know to create compelling, solid stories.The newest release—5 Editors Tackle the 12 Fatal Flaws of Fiction Writing—features more than sixty detailed Before and After examples of flawed and corrected passages to help authors learn to spot flaws in their writing.You can check out all Rachel's books and get a free story at her website.

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Parker J. Cole

Amen! Even if the critique of the book is  negative, a writer can learn how to do better and hopefully use that information for the next project or amp up the current manuscript. Good post!


This is all so very true. You took it in a slightly different direction that I thought you were going when I saw the title – the readers have the ultimate power as they are the ones who are buying the books. However, it does seem that bad books sell too…all I have to say is 50 Shades of Grey and you get the point.

Anyhow, here’s my list of writers who made me sit up and say, “wow” ….. Marilynne Robinson, Walter Wanegrin Jr., Leif Enger, Frederick Buchener, Anne Lamott, Anne Rice (Christ the Messiah series)…I know I have forgotten some but it’s a start. You have all enriched and inspired my life in so many ways. Thank you all for your beautiful words.