Wednesday, 27 July 2011

Who are you writing for and

how are you doing it?
There was a lively Twitter discussion last night (my time). In the middle of it Nicola Morgan said that she tried to write books readers want - that her mantra was to write more for readers than herself. Fair enough. It is one way of getting books published and, hopefully, sold in sufficient quantities to go on being published. I logged off for the night thinking about this.
It seems to me though that a writer is a bit like an actor. They both have to get the story across. While all of them will involve some awareness of audience (readers) surely an actor can go about this in many ways?
Certainly they can act a part to the audience. They can be, as Nicola seems to be, highly conscious of their audience/readers. This obviously has to work sometimes. It must work particularly well for writers of series. The crime writer Sue Grafton started off with A for Alibi, then B for Burglar. I think she has reached the letter U and plans to go to Z. She is contracted to do this. Her readers know her characters. They know what to expect. She is undoubtedly writing to her audience. Trying to pull off major changes simply would not work. She may kill the characters in Z but doing it before then will be a mistake. (Patricia Cornwell tried this and, in my view, it did not work.)
Ian Rankin, a much better writer, could pull off surprises with Rebus because his main character was much more complex but even he must have felt constrained by audience expectations.
Then there is the writer who writes with the audience always in mind. They are conscious of the existence of the audience. It can still, especially when writing for younger readers, make for good writing. There are obvious things you do not write into a book for children. You can also write what you know children want to read - write to them as an audience.
JKRowling obviously knew what children wanted when she introduced Harry Potter to the world. The curious thing about that however is that the adult minders in the audience were apparently not able to recognise what was happening on the stage. The books might never have been published had it not been for the child of one of the Directors of Bloomsbury asking to read more. That seems unbelievable now. Nevertheless Rowling is writing to an audience. She knows they are there and she has been able to use them.
But it seems to me that there is yet another approach. There is the actor who goes deeply inside the part, so deeply inside they almost become the part for a limited time. There is still a thread there to the audience. The thread will be as thin as a spider web but, as spider webs are, remarkably strong. too. It is, for me, the most powerful sort of acting there is - acting which binds the audience to the actor.
And it seems to me that there is writing like that too. There is the author with the story to tell. The author goes so deeply inside the story that it becomes part of them while they write it. The story is not one the reader merely wants to hear. It is one they need to hear and cannot be without. Those have, for me, to be the stories which last.


Miriam Drori said...

Plenty of food for thought there. I added my comments on my blog.

JO said...

I don't think there is a single answer to this.

When I'm particularly broke I write for the women's magazine market - they are looking for specific stories for a particular demographic. they don't (of course) accept everything, but it's enough to keep me in pens and notebooks. As stories they are flimsy, and forgotten as soon as they are submitted.

And then the 'real writing' - that engages me on a much deeper level, and is part of who I am - well, I have a more complicated relationship with that. I want it to be read, and a mentor has shoved me into thinking about readers. I think I'm in a sort of dialogue-in-my-head with these readers - I so want them to see things as I do. But know that - once the work is 'out there' it grows in a reader's head and becomes something else.

Nicola Morgan said...

Cat, by taking a twitter conversation out of context I'm afraid you've unintentionally misinterpreted my view.

I write from the heart. Mondays are Red, Fleshmarket and Wasted? How could they not be from the heart?Sometimes, a professional writer fulfilling a brief must disengage the heart. Sometimes in other writing i do that. My novels are never fulfilling a brief. They are from the heart. Always. Sometimes more, sometimes less, but never from elsewhere than there.

But that does not mean I can't put my readers as highly or even before me. Forgive me for sounding trite, but I hope my readers are *in* my heart. That is where i find them. If I couldn't hold them there when I write for them, I couldn't engage them.

I tried to tell you in that Twitter conversation that you had misunderstood my psychology, but you didn't believe me, I'm sure it's my fault for not being clear.

Some very good writers don't consciously think of their readers. I do. Always. But I hope that my readers want what I want. That's how it works for me. I've no intention to write for every reader, or even as many as possible. I've never said that.

I hope you understand me a bit better now.

I write from the heart. I can't do it any other way. But I write to be read. It's a relationship.

catdownunder said...

Nicola I am not for a moment suggesting you do not write from your heart but that is not what I am talking about!
Oh dear this is so difficult but let me start by saying I know what you write means a lot to you. Of course it does or you could not do it.
What I am trying to say is the process is different for some people. Not everyone approaches acting in the same way. Not everyone can approach writing in the same way. Agree?
Jane might join in here. Let's see if we can get it sorted. I would like you to understand - just as much as you would like me to understand.

Jane Smith said...

Hmmm. I came here from Twitter expecting to find a completely different discussion.

Cat, I agree with you that "not everyone can approach writing in the same way"; that's why it's so very hard to provide guidelines for writers to follow, and it's a very important point to make.

But in your blog post you state that Nicola writes with her reader in mind, and then you go on to say this:

"But it seems to me that there is yet another approach ... The author goes so deeply inside the story that it becomes part of them while they write it. The story is not one the reader merely wants to hear. It is one they need to hear and cannot be without. Those have, for me, to be the stories which last."

I've read some of Nicola's books and have found them compelling. Her writing has an authenticity which many other writers lack: it's heartfelt and complex and true. I love her books, I love her, and I do think you've misrepresented her here. I don't think you necessarily intended to; I do think you misunderstood her on Twitter, and that your misunderstanding has reappeared here.

It's perfectly possible to write with your readers in mind while still writing from the heart; you seem to be implying that the two are mutually exclusive, and I think that's why this misunderstanding has arisen.

Nicola Morgan said...

Um, where have I *ever* said that the process, along with pretty much every writing process, isn't or shouldn't be different for different people? I've written whole blogposts about how each writer must find what works in terms of process. I don't feel the need to agree to agree with something I've said for years.

Thank you, Jane, for your lovely comment.

Anyway, I can't say any more. Off to do some writing. And, I hope, to carry some readers with me!

catdownunder said...

Yes, fair enough Jane! Looking back it did sound as if I was suggesting the two things are mutually exclusive. Of course they are not. But might not the approaches be so different for some people that their awareness of the audience and their relationship with the audience will be quite different - but just as valid?

catdownunder said...

Oh hugs Nicola - "I know you think you understood what I said but I am not sure you realise that what you heard is not what I meant" - but thanks for finding the time to visit.

Anonymous said...

Cat, I think I DO know what you are getting at and I think Nicola might too "some very good writers don't consciously think of their readers" but if, as she says, she always thinks of her readers then quite possibly she has not experienced what you are trying to describe.
I think I may have come close to experiencing what you are trying to describe just once. If I am right (and I may not be) then it is an extraordinary sensation. It led to what is still considered to be my "best" writing.
You know I plotted and planned quite differently. My novels were there to be enjoyed. They were not intended to be great literature.
I still believe you may be able to write something very different. Do not give up. Jane L.