Writer’s consequences: choices and fallout

The short posts.

I am cleaning out my half-started blog posts files and revisiting some of the comments I’ve made on the web (in case you recognize material previously seen elsewhere).

It’s my own work – I will rewrite and repurpose it if I think it is of interest.

This also gives me a record here of ideas I have worked out – often because someone has provided a wonderful blog post that got me thinking. I’ll identify the original posts if I can figure out what they were.

Opinions – and writing

As a person, I have opinions, strong ones. That’s why I write, and that’s why I have my own blog.

As a writer, they’re going to come out: I can’t write what I am not, so everything will be subtly colored by the way I think, what I think is right, what the consequences of choices are.

It can be no other way. If I choose to write about one subject, I have chosen, for the moment, not to write about others. If a character makes a choice, I choose the consequence – and show how it happens.

How opinions affect choices

As I get to the end of the revision of Pride’s Children, Book 1, I’m finding myself facing those opinions and choices and consequences: I get to decide who the characters will be at the end.

Actually, from the way I plot using Dramatica, in many cases I decided long ago how and where the characters would be at the end of Books 1, 2, and 3. And I’ve seen no reason to change those decisions: they were based on rational and careful thought and organization – and I still like them and think they are the best ends I can engineer.

Fear of consequences

All writers know that, if they express an opinion through their writing, there will be a subset of readers and potential readers who may never read them again.

Some days it brings me to a halt: can I really say that? If I say it, how can I say it subtly? Do I believe it? Yes.

Will it ruin a story to express an opinion about Life wrong? Most definitely. That’s called propaganda or preaching, and it is not the way that fiction teaches: fiction gives us the chance to go along with characters but learn something about ourselves.

No wimping out

What I can’t do at this stage is wimp out, soften the consequences of things set up from the beginning, make things not go the their natural conclusions. On the definite chance that some people won’t like my writing.

Among other reasons, I just don’t have the energy: it’s hard enough making this CFS brain go forward – I can’t spare the energy to consider the feelings of potential readers – not and still write.

It’s my job at the most basic level: when I start a story, I am promising the reader I won’t quit halfway through.

It’s just a little scary.

What do you think a writer owes her readers?

 

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18 thoughts on “Writer’s consequences: choices and fallout

  1. Lily White LeFevre

    Short answer: nothing. There is no owing in the transaction between wrtiter and reader, no slate to clean, no ledger to balance.

    You write your story. They read their version of your story – by the end it is their story, but not in the sense that they can or should influence the writer but rather that the writer cannot and should not attempt to influence the reader’s view of the story.

    Hopefully you have succeeded in drawing clear enough signs in the text thatthe reader goes roughly where you intend. Definitely you should take care to fulfill promises made to the reader (for example telling readers a book is romance genre and ending the book/series without a happily ever after is violating the reader trust). But those are no owed, merely what you shoukd seek to do if you want the readers to come back again.

    But ultimately? You are writing for yourself. The only thing you owe is not to flinch away from your story, or the truths within it. For every reader who views them with disdain will be a reader who sighs with relief that someone else feels that way.

    Keep up the awesome work! Trust your instincts. You’re almost there, and I can’t wait to see where things go!

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    1. Alicia Butcher Ehrhardt Post author

      I do want readers to return; at the end of Book 1, you are at a crisis point – but not an end. And things look as if they could go several ways – or not at all.

      I want them to read to the very end – there are rewards there, and along the way.

      I flinch only on the social side of writing, the communication part with readers, the part I took on when I decided to finish writing this in public. There is only one of me, and she is flawed and picky, not a good combination.

      On the plotting side, I have known where I am taking my story for literally years, and it – it! – won’t let me deviate. We’re going there. And the craft is used to keep you from seeing how until it is overwhelming. I like that part.

      I read somewhere that Margaret Mitchell wrote (I’m assuming final revisions) GWTW from the end, moving back to the beginning a beat at a time. When you know the end, the story works a certain way: obstacles get evaluated as to how they affect the ability to reach that end – but the end doesn’t change. It really is back to front – but you don’t read that way, and it is almost impossible to write that way. I tell myself: you KNEW this was going to happen – now WRITE it. Plus all the wonderful little complications that get added from a twisted subconscious.

      And writers have the marvelous ability to go back and change and insert details.

      Thanks for the vote of confidence; wish me patience to bring it in to harbor without chipping the paint.

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  2. Widdershins

    The only thing a writer owes her readers is to write. To write the best damn thing we can, at any given moment, every time. A monologue if you like.

    How we choose to engage with people who read our stuff, follow us on our blogs,etc, is a slightly different kettle of kittens. It’s more of a conversation, a dialogue.

    I think that what sometimes happens is we get caught up in the immediacy and false intimacy of social media (in the concepts truest form – using multimedia to socialise) and lose sight of why we’re writing in the first place. To tell stories.

    Short version: You’re being true to your Self, so keep on keepin’ on!

    And about the scary thing? … You’re not alone. Big hugs! 🙂

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    1. Alicia Butcher Ehrhardt Post author

      There is a distinction – up until now, a lot of the people I interact with extensively on the web are WRITERS, like you – fiction, non-fiction, blogs.

      My readers now are lovely gentle people who have been reading serially and commenting as we go along.

      If and when I start selling, the proportions will abruptly shift. I had forgotten that. I will usually not be dealing with relatively more writers. I hope to attract the elusive Reader – preferably in large quantities. And I will be entering an entirely different realm, where reader expectations are to get a finished product, now, ready to be consumed whole.

      Thanks for the support and the insights. Much appreciated.

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  3. ericjbaker

    This is an interesting topic. On one hand, being wishy washy and holding back leads to forgettable work (not just in fiction but in blog posting). On the other hand, especially in the internet age, the thought police are poised to jump all over you and your words, to accuse you of being [insert bad thing here], and to demand that you conform to a predetermined set of opinion rules. I guess if you go bold, you have to go really bold.

    This might inspire me to explore the topic on my own blog.

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    1. Alicia Butcher Ehrhardt Post author

      If you ride the wild horse bareback, you have to hang on with everything you’ve got.

      I hope to stay beneath the radar. There has been so much lately about the consequences that I’m concerned. We’ll see. I think much of the problem comes when writers argue with readers/reviewers – that’s the thing to avoid. Write it, throw it up, get out of the way: it’s no longer really yours. Be okay with that – or don’t do put your work up for public view in the first place. Gulp.

      And have a trusted ally report any behavior that actually needs reporting – and pass on the things you should be working on. A thick-skinned trusted ally.

      Oh, and use it to your favor if it happens (through trusted ally – even a PAID trusted ally, if need be).

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    1. Alicia Butcher Ehrhardt Post author

      Do NOT apologize: as a blogger about writing with a very odd process, I rarely hit nerves that cause other people to dump lots of bits into my bit-bucket. Please. Do it any time. I will do my best to keep up.

      And your comment about Dramatica, among others, was spot on. You KNOW where you’re going from the moment you choose that single storyform and lock down all your options. If you’re even going to try to hit a Grand Argument Story, you have work to do.

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  4. Nick

    I think that a writer owes to the reader to keep the promises made at the beginning and throughout the work. I believe, without having finished writing any work of literature yet, that part of the promise-covenant to the reader a writer will “hint” and foreshadow what “opinions” are going to be coming forth from the characters–to me this is part of the story-argument mindset.

    Since you use Dramatica, you have already contemplated out a line-of-thought about what you intend to “show” the reader, i.e. the “premise” (in the sense used by Saldaña-Mora, James Frey, John Truby, Lajos Egri, etc. {which to me are all variations on an idea}) and in that sense you have already made decisions on the opinion you want to “prevail” (granting the obvious truth that such an opinion is, for literary purposes, only applicable to the facts of the story).

    So a writer’s obligation in this area is at least two-fold: be up front enough with your readers in the early part of the story that they can “sense” where you are going with your opinion (or maybe better put, at least up front enough that the reader knows there will be an opinion on the topic of the opinion, even if the opinion is not necessarily one they would agree with) so that if they just can’t stomach it, they can leave the game early.

    Then, the second part is, to be true to those readers who have continued on, namely to deliver on rendering your “opinion”, which includes but is not limited to proving your story-premise (e.g., foolishly trying to overcome your fears leads to early death). While doing so, still keeping in mind, as you stated, any “opinion” must not be delivered in a preachy way (but perhaps in dramatic fashion-way that causes contemplation within the reader as why the reader agrees or disagrees with you [and for sales purposes, causes the reader to want to still stick with you for the way you present your opinion/argument]; because none of the above absolves the writer from his/her obligation to deliver a story (including any opinions) in a gripping way.

    (I suppose, as I rethink the issue a bit more, to deliver an opinion in a gripping way would necessitate distilling it to a very few sentences/words, maybe not more than 3 or 4 short sentences–all the story-action before the opinion is delivered should be the ‘backup’/proof/substantiation for the opinion {assuming you are not trying to disprove an opinion held by the opinion delivering character})

    This comment is too long and could probably be distilled into fewer words and I suppose a strong indication I should stay away from trying to do short stories!!! Alas, there is no alack here!

    Wishing you the best.

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    1. Alicia Butcher Ehrhardt Post author

      YES!

      To both parts.

      1) promise.

      2) deliver.

      Don’t lose courage in between.

      The Reader is ENTITLED to both, to the best of your ability.

      It works even better if you can manage both parts with some subtlety. As a reader, I love discovering something that has been buried for me to find. I want to do for my readers what other writers have done for me, to continue the tradition: 50/50 Reader/Writer. Together we make a story – and I make half of all the stories created, because it is my scaffolding. Painters do this, composers do this. We do this.

      Add: 3) keep learning how to do this better, and we’ve got the complete set.

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  5. juliabarrett

    Well, here’s the deal – you write it but you cannot tell a reader ‘how’ to read it. A reader will interpret your work any way he or she wishes and you, as the writer, must suck it up. That’s how it has always been. And that’s okay. A work of art is open to many interpretations.
    You’ll be fine. Just don’t pull a whiny Lena Dunham. If you write it and publish it, you own it.

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    1. Alicia Butcher Ehrhardt Post author

      Ack! You made me go look!

      Very good reasons NOT to engage with readers/viewers – unless you are sure you want the fallout (a la Miley Cyrus?). Something like this happens to me, and I will be taking an extended vacation somewhere without internet access. And beaches. And warm oceans.

      For a person like me, with CFS, this would be a total disaster. I’ve been warned: do NOT participate in warfare. It always escalates.

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        1. Alicia Butcher Ehrhardt Post author

          I’m hoping it isn’t too common, that I won’t attract it, and that I can ignore it if it DOES happen.

          I know that media have made every murder on the planet happen in my own back yard – and I AM concerned about every murder on the planet – but the 24/7 barrage of bad new contrasts with the quiet of my own community, and leads to a stressful life that isn’t necessary.

          I still believe God is in charge, somehow, and that humans are trying. It will have to be good enough.

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  6. clairechase51

    I always thought you had the courage to uphold your beliefs even as a young woman. Good for you!! You were never the type to step down in the face of fear. You go girl!! I, for one, welcome your opinions and beliefs. 🙂

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      1. clairechase51

        Fear and life itself. Just think how much of life we’ve faced since we walked around together the last night of Camp Maya. Just think how much we’ve experienced and how much more depth there is to us now. We were kids then, for all the grown up we thought we were. 🙂

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