It’s an unseen force. A magnetic pull. It’s what draws people together. It’s also what dictates our tastes in food, music, books. I read once that what makes a writer an author is writing for an audience. It’s taking one’s writing beyond the simple, self-tuned writing for oneself and actively gearing work for readers. That’s my career goal — if that’s not evident by now, gentle viewers, I shall swallow my hat.
There’s a certain amount of self-pride that comes with writing for an audience. I say that not to insult writers (seeing how I’d be insulting myself at the same time), but because whenever one creates anything for an audience, it speaks of a feeling that people need or want to see what we have to say. If I’m not writing to an audience, I’m just talking to myself, and that’s a whole other issue. It’s not a negative thing, this breed of pride. Post Secret is a very successful website built on the premise that if you have something to say, it might well help someone else. There’s enough of us on this planet to safely say that we share many experiences and feelings with several million or billion others, and sharing what one creates is a venue for connecting with those people.
What makes a book sell is the force of attraction. It’s someone seeing it, getting sucked into it, and loving it enough to tell all their friends about it. Then the process repeats. That’s how books make millions and get made into movies and worm their way into the hearts of a generation. Look at the Twilight series. As much criticism as it’s gotten from literary critics and many others, it’s become a multi-million dollar franchise. That means people connect to it. It doesn’t even matter much if the writing isn’t Shakespeare, which it’s not. But something about the books connects people, attracts them. It’s not just young people, either. The blazing success of Harry Potter is another example of attraction. That’s the pull we try to create as writers.
I think all writers have to be a little bit mad in order to create good fiction. I’ve heard it a hundred times from different writers who talk about their characters as if they’re friends. Bemoaning a bad decision or considerably baffled by a turn they took. I feel it too. One of my more secondary characters had such an aggressive voice that she plowed her way into all three books and ensconced herself in my story deeply enough that she cannot be removed now. Another started being a real brat, and I had to get to know her much better before I understood why. In some ways, I feel schizophrenic — also a sentiment I’ve heard echoed from other writers.
Some days as I write, I fight the urge to search for a dormouse under teacups. The writing process can feel like I’ve set a long table for twenty people at a tea party — people no one but me can see. I don’t need opium or hallucinogens to have my characters pop up in my mind, but having them start prattling while I’m in the middle of a shift at work can be inconvenient.
In a way, that teensy madness is one of the biggest joys of creating. It’s the opposite of writer’s block; it’s birth pangs. It means the story is forcing its way out. In and of itself, it’s also a way to battle writer’s block. If I’m having trouble with a part of my story, it’s usually because I’ve forced my characters into something they wouldn’t do. If I sit still for a while and meditate on them, they usually show me where to go.
The characters are key to the attraction in a story. They have to be people readers can relate to, even if the characters are not completely likable. That’s where I am in my revision process — I’m trying to make sure these characters spark a connection in the readers who are helping me get through this stage. Seeing what their reactions are. Ultimately, the goal is to make people fall in love. Not everyone is going to want to read the stories I have to tell — no one can please everyone. The goal is to connect with the others out there who share the story already — they just don’t know it yet.
This is the transitional phase for me, going from a Mad Hatter at an empty table to a table full of others just as quirky as the dormouse sings and the March Hare conducts us all toward that mysterious attraction.
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