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Door number three: writing what you want, disguised as what your readers want

Discussion in 'Writing Discussions' started by Feo Takahari, Feb 2, 2013.

  1. Feo Takahari

    Feo Takahari Auror

    There's this idea that keeps coming up around here that you can "write what you want" and have a readership consisting solely of people like you, or "write what's popular" (not phrased as "sell out"--thank God for small favors) and have a large audience at the cost of your self-respect. I'm getting increasingly baffled at the idea that you can't do both.

    Look at Isaac Marion. He wanted to write a story about how alienated from each other people are today. Not many people actually want to read a story like that. So he wrote a zombie romance, and got both the zombie fans and the romance fans to buy his book. By the end, it's blatantly a story about alienation, but at that point, it's become too enthralling for this to matter.

    I think this emphasis on maintaining your own style hurts far more than it helps. I don't believe in objective quality per se, but I believe that if a lot of people like something and very few people dislike it, it's to your advantage to study it--not necessarily to include it, but at least to learn from what people like about it. And I believe that if a lot of people dislike something you want to write about, you should at least make an attempt at mollifying them (if only so you can attempt to convince them of whatever point you want to make--it's bad form to preach to the choir.)
    Taniwha likes this.
  2. T.Allen.Smith

    T.Allen.Smith Staff Moderator

    I think you can do both.

    However, if you're not being true to yourself & honest with your writing, and therefore your readers, then you can do neither.
    Roc likes this.
  3. Mari

    Mari Scribe

    I think trying to write what's popular is silly. Unless you are very quick and clean, it is highly doubtful that you would succeed anyway. And where do these trends come from? From folks writing what they want to.
    Jabrosky and T.Allen.Smith like this.
  4. WyrdMystic

    WyrdMystic Inkling

    Agreed. I also think it's a sliding scale. The further you are from writing what you want, the more of a chore it becomes.
    Jess A likes this.
  5. Jamber

    Jamber Sage

    Hi Feo Takahari,

    It's hard to imagine anyone saying genre writing 'should' be completely idionsyncratic, though I can imagine people saying it should be completely populist. But some books become genre trend-setters, and it's hard to believe that isn't because at some level they've gone out on a limb and taken some kind of risk.

    Maybe the problem is with anyone being hard-line in saying 'there's only one way to do something'. I'm glad you're saying there's a middle ground; I believe it too.

  6. gethinmorgan

    gethinmorgan Scribe

    Interesting. I think it comes down to our own motivations for writing - the old 'love-or'money' dichotomy that parasites all art.

    The pragmatic answer is to do a bit of both, sticking to your guns as to what makes a compelling story, versus following 'what's popular' for a quick buck. Either the market agrees, and you find lots of readers, or you get your convictions to keep you warm at night. :D

    Trouble is, 'love-of-writing' doesn't get the word count of 'writing-for-money' does, even though the later might make you feel the need for a shower. :eek:

    And then it's a matter of degrees anyway. What's unpopular now might be popular later. :)
    Jamber likes this.
  7. Devor

    Devor Fiery Keeper of the Hat Moderator

    Ohh absolutely, you have to love the story you're writing or you'll torture yourself and create a crappy story.

    Love leads to ingenuity. Someone taught me that once.

    However, I do think that there's something about being an entertainer . . . . performers get their energy from their audience. For me, I try to picture how my readers will react, and when I finally believe my readers will go "Wow!" there's an excitement and energy that just begins to pour into my writing. And when that's happened, more than once the response really was "Wow!" And those are the stories I'm most proud of.
    Feo Takahari likes this.
  8. I... think you are making a contradiction here. You say people don't want to read a book about alienation, but then you bring up an example of a book about alienation that people apparently liked to read.

    It sounds to me like alienation was the theme of the book, but you can write practically any story around a theme. I don't see what that has to do with style, or selling out to what is popular or whatever. Isaac Marion wrote a zombie romance, which happened to be about feeling alienated, but that doesn't need to mean he compromised his own vision.

    I mean, what else should he have written? What did you expect? You make it sound as if "alienation" is it's own genre or something. You think certain themes imply a certain kind of book? :confused:
    Last edited: Feb 2, 2013
  9. Feo Takahari

    Feo Takahari Auror

    Pretty much. The conventional way of writing a book about alienation for an adult audience would be to write a realistic fiction story about someone feeling alienated. In fact, many writers who'd like to write that sort of story would never even TOUCH "low art" like zombie stories. (Perhaps it's an awkward example, since people who disdain speculative fiction would never post here, but I'm still not sure exactly what "maintaining your vision" means if you don't care about high and low art--it just seems to be something that gets trotted out whenever someone suggests improvements to someone else's writing.)

    Edit: Maybe I'm clueless here because there aren't any genres or styles of literature I dislike. The only ways I can think of that I would dislike something I wrote are 1): if my readers didn't like it, or 2): if I wasn't comfortable with the message it sent (hence my evil plot to disguise my stories' messages to make them more palatable.) I guess other people might have some 3): that would make them dislike stories they wrote.
    Last edited: Feb 3, 2013
  10. T.Allen.Smith

    T.Allen.Smith Staff Moderator


    This seems to be a major obstacle for you in your writing.

    Now, I haven't read anything of yours so it's hard to speak about specifics. Still, it seems to me, that you worry far too much about what every possible reader that picks up your story could think. I know I've said it before but... Write the story as you'd want to read it. All stories, by their very nature, have messages. It's not wise to try to disguise or dilute that message (unless it would serve the story itself) as it will ring false to your reader. Be honest in your writing, be true to yourself, take risks, and experiment with techniques & ideas. Write anything...write something horrid...write something beautiful....it doesn't matter as long as you write it well. That attitude towards writing can take you a long way.
    Roc and Jabrosky like this.
  11. TWErvin2

    TWErvin2 Auror

    Unless a writer already has a sizeable audience, how can one define 'your readers'? Wouldn't the readership be based on the work(s) produced?--unless it's a writer's goal to target a particular audience.

    One thing to consider is that if you're going to write a novel, you're going to spend a lot of time (maybe a year or more) thinking about, researching, plotting, writing, revising, editing, polishing it. How many times will you be reading and rereading and rereading the text/storyline? (I can say I read my first novel in its entirity eight times--not counting sections and chapters that needed extra attention and listening to it twice when it was produced as an audiobook, and my second novel required seven full readings, and will get listened to twice as it's in audiobook production now).

    If you're not interested in a novel, what's the likelihood of doing what it takes to finish the novel and work it into the best product you can produce? I believe you really have to enjoy the story and characters to make it happen. Sure, one can focus on the money for motivation, but that's even less of a guarantee than finding a publisher. And even if one self-publishes, there's no promise of financial success--far from it. In truth, working a minimum wage job will likely offer more return in money/reimbursement hour for hour than writing a novel will, especially considering the marketing efforts that follow publication.
    Jabrosky likes this.
  12. Feo Takahari

    Feo Takahari Auror

    There seems to be some misunderstanding of what I'm talking about, so I'll explain one example of how I approached it.

    Kids These Days is, essentially, a story about everything I hate about the Facebook generation. My hope is to publish it in such a way that a): a few copies of it wind up in the hot little hands of members of the Facebook generation, and b): they read it all the way to the end. To that end, I made it a story about magic! and werewolves! and superheroes! and action! (I wasn't any more or less interested in writing such a story than in writing a story about someone spending her time on Facebook--they're both valid approaches to me.) Also to that end, nothing in the story beyond the title directly references my message--it's there if you want to look for it, and you don't have to dig very far, but you can just as easily read it as an adventure story.
  13. Roc

    Roc Troubadour

    As long as it's something you're passionate about and enjoy the writing of it.

    Honestly, about your OP, you should write what you want to write about, not cater to the readers, because if you're aiming to write the next big thing, then you should know that the most famous books are ones that the writers wrote for themselves.

    That probably isn't 100% true, but most of the time it is.
  14. Penpilot

    Penpilot Staff Article Team

    Hey Feo. Interesting view on this. I think what you're talking about is quite similar to a Grim's Fairytale. Take Little Red Riding Hood, you can read it as a simple adventure tale OR as a lesson about the dangers of meeting strangers.

    Lots of stories use allegory to speak on certain subjects and express and show the ideas dealing with that subject in the story being told.

    I read this book called Disgrace by JM Coetzee that's about a post-apartheid South Africa. The author expressed his views on race relations in South Africa by having each of his characters represent a certain faction. How each of those characters acted towards another was a refection of a larger whole. The complications of the character's attitudes and their relationships expressed the complicated relationships in South Africa as a country.

    It took me a while to realize what the book was about because it didn't preach. So, when I first read it, I took it at face value.

    A lot of authors take this approach because it allows them to tackle a complex subject by shrinking it down into something digestible or palatable .

    Old Star Trek episodes were known for allegory. Do you remember the one where Kirk met the aliens who's faces were half white and half black? One judged the other as inferior because their face was black on the left and white on the right instead of the other way around. It completely encapsulated the silly idea that someone was superior just because of their race, but it was also just a cool story.

    Last edited: Feb 3, 2013
    Taniwha and Feo Takahari like this.
  15. SeverinR

    SeverinR Vala

    Why follow in step with what people want?
    Skirt what they want and lead them astray, away from the valley of future cliche, or duplicating machine of stories.
    To an area they could never imagine.

    You have to connect with the reader, then you can lead them down the road, following your pipers fife into the land of your creation.
    ie you have to be close enough to what they want, that they notice you, but they want you to thrill them like no one else has.

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