Orson Scott Card's "Wise Reader"


I am reading "How to write Science Fiction & Fantasy" by Orson Scott Card. Good book (it's by Orson Scott Card, of course it's a good book).

Anyway, he has in this book a perfect description of a cat-dog creative interaction between an author and a "Wise Reader":

For this job, it's better if your Wise Reader is not trained in literature -- he'll be less likely to try to give you diagnoses ("The characterization was thin") or, heaven help us, prescriptions ("You need to cut out all this description"). The Wise Reader doesn't imagine for a moment that he can tell you how to fix your story. All he can tell you is what it feels like to read it.

In other words, the role of the Wise Reader is one of veto and criticism, but not invention or prescription.

Something i don't think i quite managed to convey in Cats and Dogs is the mental skill required by the dog role. People often get the impression that the dog is the lesser role, but this is not the case, criticism and evaluation is hard.

She has never prescribed -- never told me what I ought to do. ... But the quid pro quo is that I have never left any of the symptoms untreated. I always do something to address every problem she reports in her reading process. ... But I've always found -- always -- that once I started changing the problem aspect of the story, I improved it.

Anything so strongly conformant to the cat and dog roles is playing with fire though. Mr. Card's Wise Reader is, of course, his wife. :-)

... instead of my writing being a point of conflict in our marriage, as it is for many other writers, it's one of the places where we're most closely involved with each other.

It doesn't terribly surprise me that Mr. Card managed to get this right, his fiction is full of really fucked up relationships, so he should know how to avoid those traps in real life.