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ABV
Posted on Tuesday, May 24, 2005 - 05:52 am:   

This week Jeff and I have the good fortune to be hosting Tamar Yellin and her husband, Bob Tasker as they visit us here in Tallahassee. Last night, after some very good wine, we had a discussion on writing (naturally) and I posed the following position:

The reader is important to the role of writing. The writer must have the reader in order to complete the cycle of the work. I further proposed that the work would be very different if the writer knew ahead of time that no one would ever read anything he or she wrote. Needless to say, this generated much lively discussion and debate.

The writer writes in order to communicate something to someone. If no one ever reads it (and I am not speaking purely of publication, but of having ANYONE read it) then it is incomplete somehow. That is not to say that everything written must have an audience, but for most writers, I believe that the reader is an important part of the journey. In other words, don't discount the reader from the process.

I am not saying that writers should be taking into account the reader when they write, but that they are still desiring to share what they have written with the reader once the piece is done. I find it hard to believe that most writers do not care to share their work with anyone.

Not everyone on these message boards are writers, but we are all readers. So, what do you all think?
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Brendan
Posted on Tuesday, May 24, 2005 - 07:08 am:   

Personally, I feel very strongly about writing for readers. That does not mean that I think one should think too much about this, but often people get to self-indulgent, and don't think about readability. Particularly with so called "experimental" and "surreal" writing, I find that writers often write without really having much to say. That does not mean that one need have a standard plot; but at the very least a piece of writing should be entertaining.
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kellys
Posted on Tuesday, May 24, 2005 - 08:44 am:   

Writers should trust their insincts. They should write to entertain, but only to entertain themselves. If they conform their idea of entertainment to an audience's idea of entertainment, that's when their fiction will fail to entertain anyone.

So, writers should only adhere to an audience of one when writing. If you write with an outside audience in mind, you'll be consumed by the moving definition of "entertain." Whose to say what is entertaining, but yourself?

But, yes, writers do desire knowing whether or not their particular entertainment has universal appeal.
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Brendan
Posted on Tuesday, May 24, 2005 - 09:19 am:   

That is nuts. Most of the best writers have written for money, not to entertain themselves. The most entertaining writer I can think of, Ponson du Terrail, wrote 70 books in one year. He was not writing to entertain himself. Because, quite frankly, writing is not that entertaining. Reading is entertaining. Writing to entertain yourself is just being self indulgent; and unless you have an incredibly fascinating personality there is very little chance it will entertain anyone else.
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des
Posted on Tuesday, May 24, 2005 - 09:56 am:   

I feel that writers should not write for themselves nor for other people but for some huge empty hole that will one day occupy the moving space this planet currently occupies.

Glad T and Bob are enjoying themselves in FL.
des
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T Andrews
Posted on Tuesday, May 24, 2005 - 10:11 am:   

If the act of writing pleases the writer, then it's quite conceiveable that a reader isn't necessary, like journal writing.
However, writing in the sense of storytelling must take the reader into some consideration. Not so much "will the reader like it? do they understand that x felt this about y?" but has the story been told?
Maybe as a writer I feel the greatest duty, not to the reader or myself but to the Idea...the story itself. I think if a writer does justice to the story, the reader will get from it what is intended. (My audience is the smallish one of an unpublished writer, btw. ;))

Brendan, I like plot myself, and find much experimental stuff to be over my head, but I think most experimental/stylistic writing pleases its own target audience. So from that perspective, it does please its readers.

(Des, your writing is often both pleasing to this reader, and over her head.)
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JV
Posted on Tuesday, May 24, 2005 - 11:34 am:   

Yes, but the writer must sometimes feel like they are only writing for themselves in order to write as well and individualistically as possible. Whether it's actually true or not.

Jeffrog
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Brendan
Posted on Tuesday, May 24, 2005 - 11:40 am:   

Well, if by writing for yourself you mean "What kind of book would I like to buy," then I agree. Otherwise, I cannot really understand the concept. I don't see why one would bother writing if one did not at least hope that someone else would enjoy it, want to publish it etc.

In other words, one writes the kind of work one enjoys reading, not what one enjoys writing. And these are two different things.
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Colbie
Posted on Tuesday, May 24, 2005 - 04:22 pm:   

'The reader is important to the role of writing. The writer must have the reader in order to complete the cycle of the work. I further proposed that the work would be very different if the writer knew ahead of time that no one would ever read anything he or she wrote.'

I see the relationship of reader and author as very much akin to director and scriptwriter. Remember, all the reader sees are words on a page. They have no meaning without a reader (even when it is the author who wrote them rereading them) and their perspective and experiences to give them life. The words are signals that will create a series of responses in the reader's mind - some more determined than others by the author.

If the aim is communication and transmission of those ideas to as many people as possible then the author will want to use as clear and unequivocal language as possible so that each reader's version of the author's story is as close a match to their own. But how possible is this? The plainer the language the more open it will be to other interpretations.

I don't believe anyone ever reads the same book twice, like no one ever swims in the same river twice. The story inhabits our minds and the architecture of that space is never fixed.

This discussion makes me think of Borges' Pierre Menard.

Col
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MCisco
Posted on Tuesday, May 24, 2005 - 09:49 pm:   

I think the best writers create their readership, often by changing the way people read. It's one thing to conform to expectations, and another to disregard them entirely. I've never felt as though I were veering sharply back and forth between writing for myself or for an audience; I write what I want to write, but I think "I bet XYZ will get a kick out of this."
I always think of my readers because I want them to co-create the fiction with me, and that's more interesting. Over time, one of my friends has become my designated reader; I don't ask her to perform editing tasks, I ask only general questions. Did any characters really grab you? Did this make sense? And so on.
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Scott Edelman
Posted on Wednesday, May 25, 2005 - 06:23 am:   

I've had many discussions on a variation of this aspect of writing with a friend of mind for decades. I'm a writer; he's an actor.

Back when I was a teenager and equally involved in both writing and acting, and had to decide which to pursue as a career, one of the tipping points was that, as an actor, you needed permission to create your art, while as a writer, you needed permission from no one.

That is -- doing a soliloqy in your bedroom is _not_ making art. To be an actor, to bring your art to fruition, you need others -- a director, a stage manager, a venue, lights, an _audience_. In acting, you have to navigate the business speed bumps first in order to make art. Audition first, creation later.

For writers, however, these issues come in the opposite order -- art first, business second. That is, when a story is written, if the writer is happy with it, the art is _done_ ... whether or not anyone ever gets to read it. The story might get published in 10 years, 50 years, 100 years, or never -- but the work of art _exists_.

I realize that this is a different question than the one of whether a writer writes for himself or for an audience -- but I've always felt that as a writer, I can bring my art to completion whether I have an audience or not.
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AliceB
Posted on Wednesday, May 25, 2005 - 06:29 am:   

I think there's a distinction to be made between writing and wanting to get something published. Writers can have drawers full of stories, but only publish a few--for reasons besides the story not being good enough for publication. Some people clarify their thinking by writing: this isn't meant for publication but to make ideas more concrete (one of the roles of a diary, I suppose). A writer might want to experiment with language, style, form--anything. The only intended reader is the writer--s/he may decide to try and publish an experiment, but sometimes experiments are just that.

As a side thought: you are talking about writing fiction? I think things are somewhat different for professional writers of non-fiction: an attorney, for example, who makes her living writing briefs will do even more writing on research and on facts gathered. These often never get into anything published, and, in fact, will eventually be destroyed for condidentiality reasons.

Best,
Alice
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Steve Tem
Posted on Wednesday, May 25, 2005 - 07:34 am:   

So often there seems to be this disconnect between how the author sees the story and how the audience reads the story that I've come to believe we're incorrect more often than not about what exactly is being communicated. I do believe there is an audience, but its exact nature is somewhat illusory. Stories become letters to the universe, tales shouted out in a brave attempt to cross time. Your audience may be years ahead of you (or worse) years behind. You never really know. For most writers outside the more intimate arenas of the various genre categories, their only tangible audience is whoever bought the piece. You do the best you can, and for most of us I think that's simply to create a finished work of art, with the definition of "finished" depending on whatever internal rules we've been able to fabricate from instinct and experience.
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des
Posted on Wednesday, May 25, 2005 - 07:57 am:   

Stories become letters to the universe

Exactly.
des
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paulw
Posted on Wednesday, May 25, 2005 - 02:14 pm:   

I'm with Steve. I find that I'm more engaged during the writing of a story or novel with the idealized, final form of the piece in question than I am with any readership. I am aware that I'm writing for readers, and that readability is part of the idealized final form, but in the writing process it's primarily a struggle between me and my opponent -- one takes place according to "internal rules fabricated from instinct and experience."
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al duncan
Posted on Thursday, May 26, 2005 - 02:41 am:   

Your audience may be years ahead of you (or worse) years behind.

Absolutely.

I can see the rationale behind writing "for an audience" as a self-discipline aimed at avoiding preciousness, self-indulgence and that sort of personal language / iconography you often get with writers who are just starting out or who are really just using writing as a therapeutic salve. I'm sure everyone here must have read that sort of stuff (or even written it at some point; I know I have) -- where it's all terribly meaningful to the writer but completely inscrutable to anyone who doesn't live inside their little padded cell of a head. At the writer's circle I go to, over the years we've seen a number of social basket cases (trust me, that's being polite) who were really just working through their deep-seated psychological problems in public. While it may be fascinating on an "outsider art" level if done with a certain artistic flair, I just don't think it makes for good writing to go "bibble bibble bibble bibble" simply because it makes you feel all warm and fuzzy and cathartically released.

However, a writer is quite entitled to not give a rat's arse about this, that or another particular reader and whether they are capable of understanding what you're trying to say, the way you're trying to say it. There's no point trying to second-guess everything, and you certainly shouldn't be a pansy-ass panderer to what some imaginary Platonic morphological form of a "reader" is presumed to need in terms of spoon-feeding, arse-wiping, heartstring-twiddling, leading by the nose, or general mollycoddling. The Man On The Clapham Omnibus can get tae Peoria, as far as I'm concerned. So Joe Schmoe doesn't understand my cut-up-and-fold-in rearrangement of the Book of Revelations, with the devil as hero because it's at a reading level above the 4th Grade? Fuck Joe Schmoe. Joe Schmoe has kids who might grow up a little smarter. Or their kids might have better -- or just different -- tastes.

Really, my problem with the idea of "writing for the reader" is that, ultimately, that "reader" is entirely hypothetical; and if they're not simply a sort of self-projection of the writer "someone like me who'd like to read this for pretty much the same reason I wanted to write it", then who are they? Is it Joe Schmoe from Peoria, who doesn't like them fancy books with all them big words? Or is it Joseppi di Smoseppi of the Faculty of Postmodern Gibberish, Academia University, who will absolutely love my metafictional masturbation even if no one else does?

In the end, I go with what others have said, that it's more of a dialogue between the writer and the story than between the writer and the reader.
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des
Posted on Thursday, May 26, 2005 - 04:50 am:   

...where it's all terribly meaningful to the writer but completely inscrutable to anyone who doesn't live inside their little padded cell of a head...

Mea culpa (but with the rationale that 'difficulty' often takes another 'difficulty' to express it).
My own stuff often becomes inscrutable to me, too!!
des
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Brendan
Posted on Thursday, May 26, 2005 - 05:06 am:   

"A reader" is not hypothetical. My point is writing fiction that actually has some sort of story to tell, not just writing for the sake of writing or because you want to "be a writer". To write something you should have something to write, some sort of story to tell, otherwise it shows.

The point is not that you try and project what you think people will want to read. The point is to write what you would like to read. And there are many people, I am convinced, who write stuff that they themselves would never want to read if someone else had written it.
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al duncan
Posted on Thursday, May 26, 2005 - 05:52 am:   

Sure, but until the story is actually written, the reader that you're dealing with is either a projection of your own likes & dislikes ("write what you would like to read...if someone else had written it" (good distinction) ) or a supposition of someone else's ("write what you imagine someone else would like to read").

I totally agree that "you should have something to write, some sort of story to tell". I just think you can compromise the integrity of that story by trying to please a presupposed target audience. That could be a matter of "dumbing down" or it could be a matter of "cleverness" - superfluous in-jokes and showy references that you know will appeal to a select few. I'm just as wary of the latter -- more so, maybe, because I'm used to workshopping stories with friends, some of whom I've known for ten years; I could easily drop in this wee thing or that, knowing that this particular reader will get off on it, when it isn't really a good thing for the story itself.
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des
Posted on Thursday, May 26, 2005 - 05:53 am:   

There is often a blurred area between fiction and poetry... and I think this whole conversation may have been different if we'd called 'fiction' or 'stories' by the name of 'poetry' from the start.
des
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Brendan
Posted on Thursday, May 26, 2005 - 05:55 am:   

Yes, but that is what seperates the good writers from the bad. A good writer can write well and still keep the audience in mind.
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Brendan
Posted on Thursday, May 26, 2005 - 05:59 am:   

It is like a good newspaper writer. They always keep their audience in mind, and still write well.
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al duncan
Posted on Thursday, May 26, 2005 - 06:15 am:   

Ah, but I think it's about what separates the great writers from the good. A good writer can keep the audience in mind and still write well. But a great writer is one who can put the audience to the back of his mind and still write well. :-)
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des
Posted on Thursday, May 26, 2005 - 06:16 am:   

I see writing creatively as not a writer/reader thing but as something that happens - something you have to do - and when you finish it you leave it to its own devices (in fact it actually can change without your input thereafter - seen in different ways, presented in different ways, filtered, screwed up, thrown into the sea) -- it's just the versions you send somewhere by email or by post that are published or not published for an assumed wider audience, but in fact in the old days I suspect that some of my 1500 stories were printed in independent publications that had an audience of just 2 or 3 at best! If that.

Once you start thinking of the audience (even the audience that includes yourself), you're finished. Your work is stunted and it will wither on the vine. You become a journalist masquerading as a fictioneer or poet.

des
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al duncan
Posted on Thursday, May 26, 2005 - 06:29 am:   

To be a bit less glib, what I mean is there's a part of the craft that's just putting words together on the page. There's a part of the craft that's knowing how to use those skills to play the reader for all they're worth by giving them exactly what they want (and that can be what I would want if I were them, what I think most readers would want, what I think some readers would want, or what I think specific reader, X, would want). But I think there's also a part of the craft which is about recognising what the story "wants", so to speak, being willing to excise the bits you really really like, the bits most readers would really really like, the bits some readers would really really like, or the bits reader X would really really like, if and when to do so would improve the story... and even if it is at the cost of readability.
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JV
Posted on Thursday, May 26, 2005 - 06:31 am:   

I'm with Al and Des on this. Although it's true when you have a book out, your perception of it changes because readers point out things that were in there that you didn't realize were in there. I don't think a good writer is so precise as to be able to "plan" anything. So the interaction with the audience does change your outlook on your writing a bit.

JeffV
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al duncan
Posted on Thursday, May 26, 2005 - 06:47 am:   

Once you start thinking of the audience (even the audience that includes yourself), you're finished.

I'm not sure, I'd go quite that far. Actually maybe my own view is the inversion of that...

Once you're finished thinking of the audience (even the audience that includes yourself), [that's when] you start.
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al duncan
Posted on Thursday, May 26, 2005 - 07:01 am:   

Actually my last post sorta feeds into Jeff's comment about audience feedback. I mean, I've been going along to the GSFWC for fifteen-odd years, so I must think there's some bloody benefit to an audience, mustn't I? But I think it's largely after-the-fact... the fresh perspective of someone else's eyes, the highlighting of problems you were only semi-aware of, and so on.

You can internalise that re-evaluation process to some extent but I think the faculties of abstract self-critique are more useful skills to develop than the ability to imagine reader reactions.
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Brendan
Posted on Thursday, May 26, 2005 - 07:03 am:   

Well, there are very few "great" writers who did not write for money. And writing for money means for an audience. I am still not convinced. This idea that art is somehow some profound cosmic trip is a little absurd. The best art is not necessarily meant to be profound, it just happens naturally. You guys sound like you are going out of your way to make great writing - and that is not how great writing usually happens in my opinion.
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JV
Posted on Thursday, May 26, 2005 - 07:13 am:   

Er, I mean "plan everything". Of course the writer plans a great deal. :-)

Brendan--I don't believe for a second you write for the money.

The main thing is--if you write for yourself you are more likely to please a certain subset of readers, even if you potentially write less commercial material.

No one's going out of their way to make great or even mediocre writing. It's that it has to satisfy the writer first and foremost. If it satisfies me, it may satisfy someone else. But I don't think about audience when I write, and I never will. For me, that's the best way to ensure I write something someone will want to read that is still genuinely mine and genuinely unique to me.

But in a sense we're talking about process and mindset here. Everyone has a different approach that works for them.

I like to compare it to the passage in M. John Harrison's *Light*. He describes humanity going out to the stars with their faster-than-light drive...and finding all of these alien races also with faster-than-light drive, all of them working on totally different principles of science. There's a great line in there about how it didn't seem to matter what the underlying methodology was, so long as it worked and the race in question believed in it. And that kind of applies to this subject, no?

JeffV
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des
Posted on Thursday, May 26, 2005 - 07:21 am:   

You guys sound like you are going out of your way to make great writing...

In no way is this a conscious consideration on my part.
Your story in Nemo 4, Brendan, strikes me as a very good example of great writing arising naturally without an audience in mind. It has a rarified beauty...beyond most average audience's appreciation (and that is not a snobbish statement, merely one I see as the truth).

I've probably got it all wrong and why I am trying to second guess Brendan's story when I'm a believer in 'The Intentional Fallacy', I fail to know! ;-)
des
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Brendan
Posted on Thursday, May 26, 2005 - 07:27 am:   

Jeff - well, I obviously don't write for money. But I do write books that don't exist, but I think should. In other words, books no one has written, but that I would like to read.

I suspect that you do the same, because your writing is not self indulgent.

At the same time, you have an audience, and I imagine must have some kind of internals struggles while writing. In other words, I would think that you would want your future books to outdo your previous books and to satisfy your audience, or gain a new audience.

And as far as writing for money goes. No, I don't. But I also don't write things intended for oblivion. I write the kinds of things I think publishers should be publishing.
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Brendan
Posted on Thursday, May 26, 2005 - 07:30 am:   

Des -

Actually, that story was written very much with an audience in mind. I had written one or two stories very similar in tone before that, and when I wrote that story I set out to imitate a tone I had already previously invented and one which was met with approval. I.E. see my story "Collapsing Claude" in "Flesh and Blood". Same tone, different story.
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des
Posted on Thursday, May 26, 2005 - 07:39 am:   

Brendan, that only proves I'm at least right about the Intentional Fallacy! (And I've only got your word to take that was your intention, and you only have your own word to take yourself!)
des
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Brendan
Posted on Thursday, May 26, 2005 - 07:44 am:   

Hmmm. I am confused.

Also, you said "beyond the average audience". Well, maybe. But an audience does not necessarily mean everyone who can read.

Still, why can't there be a large audience for that sort of thing? This is the year 2005, certainly there are a few million people who would be into reading Nemonymous type fiction?
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des
Posted on Thursday, May 26, 2005 - 07:56 am:   

But an audience does not necessarily mean everyone who can read.


Well, this leads to the two ways of writing for an audience - maximising it or writing for a niche part of it? (I think it is a mistake to do one or the other, because if the audience is your thing then you are excluding some from the other with either of those aims).

Why 2005, Brendan, is this a magic year?

re Nemonymous, if I truly wanted to sell it to an audience, I'd have the audience in mind and advertise who has stories in it and allow others to distribute it!!

des
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Brendan
Posted on Thursday, May 26, 2005 - 08:08 am:   

Yes, but if you sell more copies, that is a good thing, no?
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des
Posted on Thursday, May 26, 2005 - 08:28 am:   

Now you're taking the subject into marketing, & business etc. - and I came into writing/editing/publishing to get away from all that. You only have one life and I spent too much time selling things (quite successfully, as it happens).

yes, more copies, the better. But I'd rather do this in an inverse way.
des
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al duncan
Posted on Thursday, May 26, 2005 - 08:31 am:   

Well, the "great" comment was a bit tongue-in-cheek. Sure, I wanna be shuuuuuuge!, but I'm not arguing for a precious, "get thee behind me, Mammon, for I am to be an Author!" attitude; I've said elsewhere that I'd rather like to see both cash and kudos coming in from my writing, that I don't see commercial and critical success as incompatible. So I don't subscribe to the Frilly Cuff Brigade's perfectly calligraphed Poets Unbound weekly newsletter meself.

But I don't buy either the "it just happens naturally" idea or the idea that not modifying your work on the basis of an expected commercial (or, indeed, critical) reaction is "going out of your way". Actually I think those two phrases don't quite fit your argument. If it just happens naturally then surely we're talking about natural talents who, by dint of their innate skills, don't really need to apply any level of critique to their own work. Surely that would contradict the idea of postulating a reader and putting yourself in their shoes as a method of rigorous self-control. At the very least, it seems strange to me to consciously work on readability but treat the thematic complexity as something that "just happens".

And it's far more a matter, I think, of not going out of your way to limit your writing consciously to achieve a specific (and maybe reliable?) broad commercial or narrow critical appeal.

Put it this way: I believe really good art (I'll drop the term "great", I think) will find or create its audience, given time and/or luck. So I'd rather do the best work I can and hope that time, luck or my Big Fucking Mouth will bring it to the attention of those who'll get it immediately. For me -- the way I judge what I think of as "quality" -- it's about structure, style, depth, density, sustainability -- qualities which I think you can judge in a quite hard-nosed way because they're right there in the text for any potential reader to get. A metaphor developed consistently throughout the text. An image which reccurs in ways that mirror or invert each other. Rhythmically fluid prose. Dynamic and balanced sentences, paragraphs, interactions, scenes, chapters, stories. Realised characters. Thematic resonance and involution. I think there's a whole lot of technical craftsmanship when it comes to writing that -- assuming you can evaluate your own abilities reasonably objectively -- you don't need a reader to tell you this works for me or this sucks for me. Personal tastes and familiarity of form aside, I think, people will respond positively to a story which "holds together", which is "tight", "neat".

I guess what I'm saying is that a judgement of "readability" can be decomposed into a more specific lower-level scrutiny of technical effect, and that I generally think it should be, that doing so will catch the same faults -- e.g. self-indulgence and superficiality -- as you would by thinking of the reader, and at the same time avoid other pitfalls -- i.e. dumbing-down, in-jokes, pretentiousness -- which I think you can be risking if you're consciously targeting an audience and adapting your work to make it more palatable for them specifically.
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des
Posted on Thursday, May 26, 2005 - 08:42 am:   

That's an exciting essay, Al. I take it all on board. But one man's self-indulgence is another man's high art. Some find Proust self-indulgent.

I think the moral is: no generalisation is possible in this field of creative communication.
des
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Brendan
Posted on Thursday, May 26, 2005 - 08:47 am:   

Des -

Well, what you are doing, it is a good thing. So, I am not complaining.

Al - I guess part of my problem is that often times it seems to me that the "writing for oneself" attitude can often lead to work that does not hold together.

I am not advocating dumbing down one's work. Actually, I think this is part of the problem with this conversation, is that people assume that when I say "reach a large audience" I mean dumbing down or selling out or whatever. But I don't. My feeling is is that there is a very large audience of intelligent people that would love to read interesting fiction, but that very often the writers with the most lyrical talent fail to reach these people because they are too self indulgent.
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des
Posted on Thursday, May 26, 2005 - 08:48 am:   

Another aspect: anti-audience factors can lead to pro-audience factors: my own book has been reviewed as impenetrable and also as "a book to enjoy and live with for several months, maybe even years."
!!
des
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al duncan
Posted on Thursday, May 26, 2005 - 09:01 am:   

That's where personal taste comes into it, I'd say, Des, and familiarity of form. If you don't like exhaustive psycho-social documentation, or if you're quite unfamiliar with that type of detail upon detail upon detail, character-driven realist writing then picking up Proust... well, I haven't read him meself, but from what I know I imagine it could be a bit like ordering a garden shed and having a goddamn castle delivered.

I'll make another comparison, since I'm more familiar with Peake: I've heard Gormenghast called self-indulgent. But I think the first time I picked up Peake I felt the same way, abandoned it as utterly unreadable. Went back to it years later and tried again. First fifty pages I hated, still found it like trudging through a mire.

Then fifty pages in -- BANG! It suddenly clicked, I got what Peake was doing, how the pace, the detail, the grotesquery of the characters -- everything that I'd been finding so pointlessly, infuriatingly, posturing and phony and so, yes, self-indulgent -- suddenly made sense. From then on in, I loved it.

So give that self-same Proust reader twenty years for their tastes to change or for them to see from other writers how and why Proust does the things he does, and I think you could see a different reaction entirely.
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al duncan
Posted on Thursday, May 26, 2005 - 09:31 am:   

the "writing for oneself" attitude can often lead to work that does not hold together

I think I'd probably agree. I think my own suppositional image is that I'm "writing for the writing itself". I don't mean in an Art For Art's Sake way, but in the (possibly schizo) sense that the story is a noisy, annoying little monster baby who will not let me be until it's a viable life form in its own right.

I am not advocating dumbing down one's work.

Sure sure -- absolutely -- that's why I've been careful to talk about the other side of the coin too, clubbishness as well as commerciality, being overly narrow in selecting your target as opposed to overly broad. I think that's a particular danger within the more traditional genre stuff as well as in more "experimental" and "surreal" writing -- failing to reach a larger audience because certain cheap tricks work for the initiated but exclude everyone else.

To some extent, we're gnawing at the same bone from different ends maybe. I see that *self-indulgent* quality of particularly "clever-clever" experimental writing as a pandering to (a subset of) readers' tastes for tricksy writing "FX", a sort of show-offery designed to garner critical kudos from the high-brow yahoos. It's not about readability and dumbing down, but it is still about "having an audience in mind" when you're writing.
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T Andrews
Posted on Thursday, May 26, 2005 - 10:10 am:   

Al, I subscribe to your schizo idea. I think if the story is the greatest concern, not the reader or the writer, everyone will be happy. The whole reader/writer arguement just gets too circular. The story is in the centre waiting to be properly actualized.
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des
Posted on Thursday, May 26, 2005 - 10:25 am:   

Exactly, Tanya.
des
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JV
Posted on Thursday, May 26, 2005 - 02:43 pm:   

Brendan:

It's not wanting to please my audience--my audience changes from book to book. It's that I want to outdo what I've done before, if possible, for my own personal satisfaction and growth as a writer.

I don't think we're actually at odds. I mean, once I write the thing, I want top dollar for it. But while I'm writing it, I don't consider audience. I do consider things like does the surface of the story work in a pleasing way no matter how serious or "deep" the intended subtext or deeper levels.

JeffV
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Scott Edelman
Posted on Thursday, May 26, 2005 - 06:26 pm:   

I think of my audience in much the same way John Updike thought of his when he wrote the following:

"When I write, I aim my mind not toward New York but toward a vague spot a little to the east of Kansas. I think of the books on library shelves, without their jackets, years old, and a countryish teen-aged boy finding them, and having them speak to him."

That is, writing not necessarily for the masses, but for the few who are hungry for my particular voice and for whom the time is ripe.

But as for why I write, you might as well ask a runner why he or she runs. Though there are some runners who'd say they do it to win marathons, I think that primarily you'd hear them say that they do it because when they do it they hit the Zone.

I write because when I am writing I hit the Zone. I achieve a higher plane of existence. Yes, I am pleased when others find what I write pleasing. But primarily, I am seeking the same out-of-body experience that any runner -- or whirling dervish -- seeks.

Everything else is gravy.
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Brendan
Posted on Thursday, May 26, 2005 - 10:56 pm:   

Jeff --

No, we are not at odds :-)
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des
Posted on Friday, May 27, 2005 - 05:59 am:   

Scott Edeleman says:I write because when I am writing I hit the Zone. I achieve a higher plane of existence. Yes, I am pleased when others find what I write pleasing. But primarily, I am seeking the same out-of-body experience that any runner -- or whirling dervish -- seeks.

That is a very good description of what I find the fiction writing process to be - it isn't pretentious, it is simply a fact.

Separately, and as brainstorming, perceived real audiences, for me, just get in the way and alter what I would otherwise write. Yet, I can empathise with a model of an audience member who is writing the same things in an alternate world, where I am his reader. That's where the link occurs, perhaps. The creatus urgus and sales filter via a slow fuse between these existences, ratchetting up in serial mutual appreciation that rubs off automatically but disintentionally with real audiences that are tapped into the the same Jung-le.
des

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jeff ford
Posted on Friday, May 27, 2005 - 06:36 am:   

des and Scott: I'm with you on the writer's high. Better than any other drug, more fully engaging. You can't beat it with a stick. As far as an audience outside myself goes, I don't think about it when writing. In a way, I'm two people and one's the writer and one's the reader. Once the thing's out there, yeah, then I want anyone to read it who wants to. The audience chooses the story not the other way around. Writing for money -- I like getting money for my writing. That's a cool thing. But not always necessary. Like this year, I will have published quite a few stories and well more than half of them I made 0 to 10 dollars on (10 dollars being just about as close to nothing as you can get without it actually being nothing), and one I even spent a 100 dollars on. It all depends on the situation. The reason I write is to tell the story.
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Brendan
Posted on Friday, May 27, 2005 - 07:23 am:   

Funny. I can't relate to the writer's zone thing. It doesn't seem that pleasant to me. I mean, better than some things, but...

Jeff -

Yes, but somewhere down the line, such as if they get published in a collection, those stories will probably make you a little money.

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jeff ford
Posted on Friday, May 27, 2005 - 07:41 am:   

Brendan: Yes, and...?
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Brendan
Posted on Friday, May 27, 2005 - 07:44 am:   

And it is still writing for the public. I mean, it is publicity, future money. It does not necessarily mean it is just writing for the great void. Not that that is what you were meaning to express.

I mean, would anyone write if you knew ahead of time no one would ever read what you write?
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jeff ford
Posted on Friday, May 27, 2005 - 08:14 am:   

Brendan: I never write for the void. What's the void anyway? I write because I have a story I want to tell, and if you want to tell a story, you usually want to tell it to someone, if only yourself. Otherwise, why write it down? Just daydream it and leave it at that. As Ann said at the start of the thread, a story only really comes to fruition when a reader reads it. Even if the reader is yourself. I'm definitely writing for readers -- the void can go squat. The act of writing, itself, negates the void. Whether you write for money or you don't write for money, is really kind of beside the point when it comes to the reader. What the reader cares about is is this a good story? There are as many different readers as you can conceive of.
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Brendan
Posted on Friday, May 27, 2005 - 08:36 am:   

Jeff - I agree.
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jeff ford
Posted on Friday, May 27, 2005 - 08:56 am:   

Brendan: I'm glad you agree, but it doesn't really matter anyway, cause I've read your fiction, and I'm not letting the void claim you.
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Brendan
Posted on Friday, May 27, 2005 - 09:07 am:   

Thanks :-) The void will claim me eventually...but I would rather it wait a bit!
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des
Posted on Friday, May 27, 2005 - 10:20 am:   

The void has already claimed me lock, stock and waterman!
des
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Brendan
Posted on Friday, May 27, 2005 - 12:19 pm:   

Hmmm. Don't be so sure. The material world has a funny way of sneaking up on you.
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Dunmore
Posted on Friday, May 27, 2005 - 03:19 pm:   

I am the material world!

(Only joking)

But this discussion brings to mind a great essay by a man of high distinction called Walter Benjamin.

He wrote an essay called The Storyteller, where he laments the passing of the art of storytelling, which for him (if I remember rightly) was destroyed by the advent of the First World War.

If I remember well, Benjamin was writing a kind of epitaph, if you like, for the lost art of storytelling--that is, the time when stories were told around the hearth.

I can't help thinging that, if we're talking about stories, then the whole point of stories is that they have to be told. Which, of course, means an audience, a readership, a willing listener, who is essential to the utter EFFECT of the story (i.e. the way the story is received by those who hear it--their exclamations, their doubts, their love of the tale, their dispute with certain details).

Things now are different. Stories are told in a different way (through printed words rather than oral communication). For me, the challenge is for written stories to produce the same effect as stories that were told of yore.


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des
Posted on Saturday, May 28, 2005 - 12:55 am:   

Even in the glow of a campfire, I guess, when telling your story aloud (read from a physical script, pre-mind-scripted without being on 'paper' or purely ad lib/improvised, or a combination of some or all of these), I imagine the story would be better for not seeing the listeners (not even their eyes in the darkness). Or even sensing their existence.

I don't think the medium of the story-telling would affect many of the points above: it's just there are very many stories and story-effects, to generalise on any one aims such as the challenge is for written stories to produce the same effect as stories that were told of yore
des
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Dunmore
Posted on Saturday, May 28, 2005 - 02:04 am:   

Yes, you're right, Des.

I guess what I was meaning in terms of effect was in a general sense, where there is (without wishing to sound wishy-washy) a kind of communal function about the telling of stories.

I can't remember Benjamin's essay very well, but I think one of the things he was lamenting the passing of was the function of stories as a kind of cultural common denominator--a sort of focus of attention not only for the teller but for the community overall.

He was referring to actual communities in the local social sense, but I think the same still applies in modern parlants, where stories have a function of acting as kind of centres of consciousness for like-minded people who identify with them.

Maybe. I'm not really sure what I'm getting at, but I certainly mean that stories that don't perform this or a similar function never really become fully fledged stories.

Would a painting that was never seen or a song that was never heard by anyone other than the artist or composer have a function beyond the thing in itself? Why should it have a function beyond itself anyway? Well, having a function beyond itself is not necessarily a requirement for its existence, but it's existence has very little meaning without one.

One thing, though, I would probably disagree that a story would be better for not seeing the listeners. It might be, but in the end the response of the listeners as the story was being told could actually determine the outcome of the story--for better or worse--but here is where storytelling, as a primarily written form now, differs from a preliterate storytelling culture.

I think also that if you're writing a story according to the demands of an audience (rather than your own inclinations) the story is likely to be better. Having the reader in mind might, I imagine, lead to a much more disciplined piece, minus the frills of authorial self-indulgence (which is maybe the danger of not keeping the audience/readership in mind?).

But I do agree, Des, that my former point underestimates the sheer complexity and variety of all the effects that stories are capable.
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des
Posted on Saturday, May 28, 2005 - 02:21 am:   

...in the end the response of the listeners as the story was being told could actually determine the outcome of the story

That sounds like a collaboration, and fair enough.
des
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al duncan
Posted on Saturday, May 28, 2005 - 07:58 am:   

I think also that if you're writing a story according to the demands of an audience (rather than your own inclinations) the story is likely to be better.

Hmmmmm.

An analogy:

I think also that if you're building a doghouse according to the demands of doggies (rather than your own inclinations) the doghouse is likely to be better.

No. It's just going to have all the NEAT and EXCITING things that dogs really really really really really really really really really really really really LIKE... like SQUIRRELS!! and CATS!! and and and and BIG SPLASHY PUDDLES coz, uh, BIG SPLASHY PUDDLES are COOOOOOOOOL.

And you end up with a kennel that the doggy absolutely loves for all of five minutes before it collapses.

OK, so that was a bit more arsey and dismissive of the reader's critical faculties than I meant, but my point is the writer should (theoretically) have a bit of feckin practice and skill (and maybe even talent) at this putting-a-story-together malarkey. He/she should understand how to make a story solid and tight, to see that it has its own "integrity", with every part of it fitting with every other part of it, that it's not just a mess of randomly cobbled together neat shit. He/she should, I would think, understand the requirements a damn sight better than the generally passive reader. There's critical feedback, sure, but what you're talking about sounds to me like focus group driven writing by committee.

Perfect example: the test-screening of Blade Runner where that audience wanted a happy ending for the widdle Deckad and Wachel diddums cause it's soooooooo sad and howwibly bleak if they not dwiving off through the fucking ending of The fucking Shining.

Nay, I say. Nay! And thrice nay!

Performance is entirely different. I mean, I agree with Dunmore over Des here; when a story is being performed, the audience is a key component. You don't chuck them a punch-line and then blithely keep on talking while they're stil laughing and can't hear a damn word you're saying. You don't ignore the fact that the "soothing" tone of voice you thought appropriate to the story is resulting in the front row nodding off. An awareness of the audience is crucial to a good story-telling, I'd say. The hushed silences, the pauses, even the occassional eye contact -- they're all extra-textual parts of the story-telling, and a lot of that performance has to be off-the-cuff and revised as you're going along according to what is working and what isn't. Because that's the telling not the tale. Plays might have more of that collaborative dynamic, with asides for a character, prologues, epilogues and choruses; some playwrights do even deliberately fuck with the distinction between audience and actors, to get more dynamic, less predictable stories that are not solely determined by authorial intention.

But performance and prose are quite distinct, and I think a writer can come a cropper by being too focused on the "applause" that this or that neat trick might generate.
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JV
Posted on Monday, May 30, 2005 - 08:53 pm:   

LOL!

Oh ho, Master Duncan, you're going to have a rude awakening when your first book comes out. I'm going to be chortlin' on the sidelines as your perception changes just a wee tad. Perhaps even a...dram.

JeffV
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Nick the Scissors Winsor
Posted on Tuesday, October 04, 2005 - 07:17 am:   

If you were discussing all this with my old college mate Bob Tasker aka Bob the Trog then why is there no mention of Motorhead or the Hungry Years.
Do give our love to him and Tamar.

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