Just what the hell are you trying to do?

In the end it ALL comes down to motive – whether you speak of the character OR the author. Why are you doing this? What are you writing this book for? What do you wish to achieve? Who cares?

If you can’t answer motive questions… well, good luck. Your book will ramble. You might be lucky and the ramble delights readers, and you sell a bajillion copies because you just happened to be lucky. Me, I am not lucky. I spent several hours today discussing motives and how those affected each character in the current WIP. And of course, playing god (as authors do) and adding more reasons why characters might logically do xyz. I also think a lot – as an author, about why and hows of the books I write. I write books for money to live on. That is my motive. I therefore obviously want to please my readers. BUT…

But there are many things I could do that, frankly, would make me more money (many things). My motives in choosing to write, and what I choose to write are complex. Bluntly, if it was JUST about the money… I would have focused on pleasing the panjandrums of traditional publishing. Or written porn. It is however important to me as an individual to balance my needs against those of the readers, and find ways both parts of the equation can work. Maybe I don’t make as much money as I could, but I feel good about what I write. I try and write books… I would like when things are bleak. That I can be proud of not for being prize-winners or their great literary merit, but for being books that lifted people when they needed a lift. books that leave you feeling better, books that make you think (especially not about your personal problem, just think. Ideas are liberating and wonderful. Sensawonda if you like.) I actually don’t care if you don’t agree, just that you did think about the idea. It should be a good thing to do, and broaden the world. If that makes me money, good-o. Both sides win.

It’s always a balancing act. I’ve met writers who actively despise their audience. I’ve met others whose only ambition is ‘recognition’, and I met those whose only aim is to make money — and those whose where ideals are more important than reaching any readers at all (I don’t see much point, myself. Are they expecting you to pay them to signal their virtue or engage in psychotherapy?). Your balance may well not be mine. But my balance remains leaning towards make the reader happy FIRST. Anything beyond that is a plus, so long as I haven’t made myself unhappy in the process.

I don’t care if it is ‘literary’ or even ‘good English’ when I read a story. What I do care about is if the story throws me out – stops that happy reading trance. Am I the only one to find myself in a book-transported different place when immersed? I don’t think so (but we all think we’re the center of the universe and everyone is like us, and I have had enough lessons to realize this is not always the case.

A couple of areas that this has come up recently – I read some rather self-satisfied author pontificating about a grammo. How stupid the other writer was… well, how do you define stupid? Did the writer lose anyone but the few purists? Did anyone have trouble understanding what the writer meant? No. It was the sort of thing a fast reader wouldn’t notice, frankly. It wasn’t great English, but everyone knew what the writer meant without having to stop and think about it. If the author’s motive was to win prizes for English literature, they surely failed. If the author’s motive was to keep people reading — well, grammar does sometimes make it clearer, but really, it’s not a train-smash… if the reader doesn’t care.

And from my point of view, my motive is to please that reader, and have them follow the story easily.

14 thoughts on “Just what the hell are you trying to do?

  1. Heh. I’m at the dilettante level. “To prove to myself that I can” necessarily has the highest priority. But there are days (weeks, months) when convincing myself of it, is hard.

    I’m sure that I’ll find plenty of other insecurities after this hurdle, but I’m sure looking forward to getting over it.

  2. I write because God gave me the talent and therefore expects me to use it. I publish because He doesn’t want me to put my light under a basket. If even one person enjoys what I’ve written, I’ve done my job. (It would be nice if a whole lot of people were doing the enjoying, but I’m not there yet).

  3. I write what I do to interest and engage people with our real American history, our complicated, dramatic and fascinating history. The best way to teach history is to make a ripping good yarn out of it – and the best part is that often I don’t have to make up something; what really happened was fascinating and dramatic all on it’s own.
    I think that my guiding motto is the tagline for the Armed Forces Radio and Television Service, which I worked in for twenty years” “To Inform and Entertain.”
    Strong emphasis on the “entertain” partl

  4. Because there are stories I want to exist in the world and nobody else is writing them. Or something like that.

  5. I write because I get a kick out of story-telling. And then I write to express my joy at being competent at it. I live in the worlds I make, or at least I daydream there.

    If someone tells me they liked something of mine, well, that’s icing on the cake.

    I understand all the professionalism about writing to market and maximizing output etc., etc., etc. But the buzz I get out of creative pleasure speaks more loudly to me than the cold competence of business management. At this point, I wouldn’t stop unless it was an active financial drain. I do get pleasure out of my competence in building & running small businesses, but it just doesn’t compare to the creative high, so that falls into the necessary background.

  6. I think I do it because I want to understand how people change and how they deal with strong emotion successfully.

    And when I can’t figure out why they’re doing what they’re doing I can’t write either. At least until I do figure it out, which gives me some reassurance on the stuck WIP. As long as I keep gnawing on it, I’ll figure it out eventually.

  7. I do it because I have to. Stories are going to force themselves out, either as non-fiction with lots of research, or as fiction with a smidge less research. I want to entertain with the fiction. I try to entertain and pass on information with the non-fiction.

  8. I write prose because the stories are there and want to be told, but they’ll slip away if I don’t write them… and they’re all ones I want to read. I publish because if I wanted to read the stories, maybe someone else also wanted the stories, so I endeavor to write in a way others will understand.

    Poetry is… maybe a bit odder. When words won’t come any other way they come in poetry. Poetry is at once easier than prose and more elusive. I do not poet nearly as well if there isn’t a recipient, even if that recipient isn’t physically present.

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