Thursday, September 10, 2015

Writing for Readers

I received a bunch of terrific comments for the last post, proving that despite people's general feelings towards market research (and I admit the words make my skin crawl as much as anyone) there's a willingness to come forward and make arguments.

Good on all of you.

I feel it would be poor form to debate the individual conclusions, since every single conclusion that has been pulled from the tiny bit of source material is dead right.  It is in trying to establish the best course of action between the right answers that makes parsing these opinions so difficult.

I do want to make some general points, however - and it felt best to do this in a blog post, where I had no limitation on the number of words or characters I could use.  Some of these general statements will refer to specific things that specific persons have said.  I want it very clear that I agree with the reasons for bringing those things to light.  They had to be said.  And they were considered by me before I wrote the post in question or proposed the poll.

It is revealed on page 2 (or three, as Jeremiah's point about 'I' statements has already got me rewriting the first page) that the story will be about the narrator, Herzog [name chosen to be deliberately Germanic and odd] being 17.  I don't want to write anything that is told in a 17-year-old's perspective.  I think that would be horrible.  I think it would be aggravating for the reader, dull, expressly destructive of the immersive quality of the story and just a huge pain in the ass for me, the writer.  I am not 17.  When I was 17, I was a terrible writer.  I don't need to pretend to revisit that when I don't feel it would add anything to the story.

Therefore, yes, I have chosen to set the book up as told by someone who is approximately my age, recounting something that happened to him when he was 17.  This lets me use my whole vocabulary and lets me tell a tale instead of an art project.

I have no intention of writing for any age group or any genre-interested segment of the population.  I have no interest in writing material that only a person interested in fantasy would want to read.  I think I have designed a good story.  The second draft is intended to translate that good story into a good read (thus, I am still fixing the first page, as it isn't the final draft by any stretch of the imagination).  I'm still not completely satisfied with the tone of the story-teller (thus, too many 'I' statements as I try to find a voice) but that's something the second draft will fix.

So, no, this won't be written for pre-teens.  That said, there's no reason why a pre-teen wouldn't enjoy it.  I read the unexpurgated Frankenstein as a pre-teen and I enjoyed that.  I read a lot of adult books as a pre-teen, including a number of medical textbooks.

This is for Oddbit, but it is meant in jolly good humour.  A word is a word.  The only thing that makes a word 'fancy' is the reader's prejudice.

Prejudice cannot be written around.

Yeah, the knees thing.  Well, I didn't read that through.  My sense is that "I fell backwards" can easily be interpreted as "I fell away."  "Landed on my knees" can easily be assumed to mean "hands and knees."  But the point is taken.  In general, the line is a placeholder.  To satisfy everyone, we can write it,

I pulled back in fright.  Seizing the edge of the seat, I let myself fall from to the ground, tumbling into the thick bed of leaves and moss.  It must have been Autumn.  All I remember is that I ended up somehow on my hands and knees, looking up at the man as he looked down at the reins I had dropped.  Those had fallen between the horses, so that he couldn't just snatch them up and drive away . . .

There's no such thing as bad writing.  There's only writing that hasn't been fixed yet.

Now, about the word 'bequest.'  Yeah, that's a puzzler.  I explained how I came upon the word in a comment yesterday but I didn't mention that I had then gone to to look for a better - or rather, a more 'friendly' word.  Sadly, all the other options fail to fit the actual plot of the novel.

I can certainly appreciate anyone saying that the title would put them off.  I particularly liked the phrase from James about "a clever, polite, English country gentleman or woman gallivanting about and solving pernicious riddles."  I liked it because in many ways this applies to the novel I've written.  It is a mystery.  It happens to take place in a 14th century fantasy world that includes magic, but there's something going on that isn't made certain until the end.  The uncertainty doesn't happen to be a murder, but it does involve a bunch of killing and, as the killing remains in the province of we don't know why or what, yes, the novel is a mystery.

But all novels are mysteries.  The forementioned Frankenstein is a mystery - we don't know what's going to happen if the monster wakes up.  In To Kill a Mockingbird (a novel I hate, but most readers are familiar with it) we don't know how Boo Radley fits into the story and his presence is definitely mysterious.  Robert Asprin's Another Fine Myth is a mystery, from the moment Aahz appears in the story to the uncertainties surrounding Isstvan.

If there wasn't a mystery, no one would read anything.  The argument that the title would put people off is, as ever, only a sign that people continue to believe they can automatically tell the difference between a good book and a bad book by the cover.  That is why covers are full of boobs, swords, weird scenery and dragons.  Pardon me, gentle reader, but what the hell?

Asked with a smile on my face.  So it goes, so it is with people.  I don't read any modern book unless a friend suggests it - and let's face it, in a world full of books, the only chance anything I write has the least chance of being popular is if all the readers of this blog buy the book because it's me, likes it and tells their friends.

I sold 10 books through Chapters here in Calgary - at $40 a book.  Why $40?  Because the split with the book store was onerous.  I had to make it $10 more just to make it worthwhile keeping track of the unreal, annoying, half-assed sort of merchandising that goes on with real booksellers.  It's kind of laughable.  However, I've actually heard from two of those people through email and neither mentioned the different price online.  Both were people who saw the book for the first time on the shelf and bought it.

That's rather amazing.

If I have to put boobs or swords on the cover of my book in order to make a total stranger who has never read this blog buy it, then I will.  There is an actual scene in the book where the presence of boobs does, in fact, upset the 17-year-old.  But all in good fun.  So there's a justification for putting boobs on the cover.  Just so.

I hope, I count on people buying the book because they read me here.  I know I can't always count on that.  I wrote a great book called Pete's Garage which I put up about 30 months ago.  It didn't sell that well online, but everyone who has talked to me about it has liked that book.  I think it didn't do well with any regular readers because it's about musicians and most assumed that, not being musicians, it wouldn't be interesting.  But I didn't write the book for musicians.  I mean, if you're a musician, there are in-jokes and things you're going to get - but in the long run, the book is really written for people who like fantasy.

Being about a musician running a studio for practicing musicians, I included a traditional muse, a traditional satyr and a traditional siren - all musical creatures from Greek fantasy literature.  So its really a fantasy novel mixed in with stories about trying, failing, falling apart and falling in love.  Hell, there's a fistfight in it.

You guys should buy that book.  And then tell your friends.

Why on earth, my lovely friends, do you think I hammer away at this blog all the time.  It's to convince you that I can write.  It's to reassure you that if I have a book in the works, I'm going to work hard on it.  I'm going to fix all the little details about falling off wagons and the titling.  I'm going to bounce things around online so that you'll help me make it better and stronger and more interesting.

I'm not the least concerned about someone seeing the cover of the book and making a decision on the title.  I want an impression, I want to see what it conjures up in the minds of the blog readers so that I can see how to fit the actual content of the book more into the direction that will appeal to people.  It isn't the title that matters, but what you've all said about what you all hope to find inside.

I'll do my best, my honest, level best, to ensure that what you find inside is good.

No matter what the title is.

Let me round this post off with a couple of review for Pete's Garage for those who missed it, who probably don't have a Goodreads account.  Not 100% positive, but nothing ever is.  I'm happy people read it:

1 comment:

James Clark said...

Our friend Malcom Galdwell might argue that weve trained ourselves to properly judge books by their covers and titles... or not. ;-)