As a well-rounded adult member of society, you have more interests and areas of expertise than just the all-important writing world. (Right? …If not, well, I hate to say it, but you’re missing out.) Sometimes, viewing an aspect of writing through that seemingly incongruous lens offers you perspective, and can help you approach problems with new insight. In this week’s guest blog, equestrian mystery writer Lisa Wysocky applies her lifelong love of horses to decrypting the relationship between writers and readers.
From the time I was very young, I have written about horses, and as I have gotten older I find that my most important lessons have come from the world of horses—including lessons about reading and writing (and about readers and writers).
Every “horse person” knows that humans are predators and horses are prey. Obviously, this is a fundamental difference between species, and as a result, each acts accordingly. Horses look to those around them for leadership. If their human partner does not display an ability to lead via business-like body posture, competent facial expression, calm voice, and sensible decisions, the horse will lose respect for the human and call them on their error by misbehaving.
What, you might ask, does this have to do with reading or writing a mystery? Everything, actually, as horses and humans are not the only ones to have differences. Authors and readers can also be very different, in terms of their roles. Authors, for instance, “lead” the reader into the story, just as a human might lead a horse into a new adventure on the trail. If the writer’s story is not engaging and exquisitely crafted, then, just like a horse, the reader will lose respect.
Mystery authors sometimes live with their characters long enough that it becomes difficult to find perspective in giving out needed details of character and plot. If they get it wrong, a reader will call an author on it every time. In this way, the horse/human relationship and the author/reader relationship are not so very different.
Horse lovers also try to impose human experiences onto horses, and that is an impossible task. From the way horses process thought, to how they see and process touch, theirs is a world apart from the human experience. It is the same with readers and writers. When I write, I try to think like my readers, even though I know my characters and the story inside and out, while the reader is at the mercy of the information I choose to deliver.
That’s why I am always conscious of how the typical mystery reader might interpret a scene, or the last line of a chapter. Will my description of a round pen, for example, make sense to a person who does not know about horses, yet not be too elementary for those who do? As a reader, I know that I would much rather have the comfort of a concise, accurate description of an object or a process, than have a “Huh?” experience. As an author, however, that balance can be hard to find.
I have been fortunate to have my nonfiction books about horses diligently edited by people who are seasoned horse people, because those are the only readers who will be interested in that kind of book. On the other hand, I am equally as fortunate to have a woman who knows little about horses edit my Cat Enright equestrian mystery series, including The Fame Equation (2015). Even though I try to think like my readers when I write, I sometimes forget that not everyone knows, for example, what a fetlock is. My editor calls me on those lapses every time.
What is relevant information? What description adds to the story? What words advance the plot? How much is too much? Authors must lead the reader ably into, through, and out of the story in such a way that the reader wants to come back for more. Horse lovers want their horses engaged with them. Authors want to engage readers. Both, in a way, are done through leadership.
That’s why I try to think like a horse when I write. Scientists’ best guess is that horses think in pictures, much as people on the autism spectrum do, and every writer wants to be visual. Horses are also quite literal. If they don’t like something, you know it immediately with the pinning of an ear or a swish of a tail. As a writer, I know pretty quickly if a reader doesn’t like something, as one is sure to speak up.
Whether it is through reading or writing, we all love to immerse ourselves in a new mystery. That focus and attention is also very horse-like, so whether you realize it or not, you have something in common with the horsiest of horses.
Lisa Wysocky is a registered level PATH International instructor and also holds a certification as a Mentor and Equine Specialist in Mental Health and Learning. The September 2011 publication of the four-time award winning Cat Enright equestrian mystery, The Opium Equation, marked Lisa’s debut fiction effort. The follow up, The Magnum Equation, takes place at an all breed horse show and won best book at the American Horse Publications awards, the first fiction book ever to earn this honor. The Fame Equation was published in 2015 and the series has recently been optioned for film and television. Lisa is also one of the authors included in the best-selling anthology, Eight Mystery Writers You Should Be Reading Now, with a Foreword by Hank Phillippi Ryan. She splits her time between Tennessee and Minnesota. Find her at LisaWysocky.com.
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