Tuesday, January 24, 2012

Readers, eh? Can't live with them, etc., etc.

One of the questions I find difficult to answer is the one about whether we have a reader in mind when we write. I know I go on about the characters being free to do what they like but that’s the way it feels. So, in a way, when I’m recording their activities and dialogue, I’m being the reader (sort of). OK, in the end, it’s the writer-me who’s changing things around, editing sentences and segments to get the rhythms ‘right’, but the characters take precedence over almost everything else.

The reason I bring this up, however, is that in the course of answering an email from Jean way back it struck me that once you’ve blogged a few times and got a few comments you’re aware of your potential (and actual) readers. Which means that the character you’re watching/creating/recording is you and you can begin to anticipate what sort of responses he/it might provoke in the ‘audience’.

Character-Me (CM):    OK, smartass, prove it.
Writer- Me (WM):       What?
CM:                      Make me do and say things for the Murderous Musings readers.
WM:                     It’s not that blatant. It’s more subtle.
(CM yawns.)
WM:                     Anyway, if I tried that, I’d be bound to offend someone.
CM:                      Oh, and we can’t have that, can we? Better to stay all bland and cowardly and non-controversial. You’re pathetic. Real writers upset people all the time.
WM:                     Well, I can do that in books and stories. No need for it here.
CM:                      Why not?
WM:                     Because when you start blogging you make … well, sort of friends.
CM:                      See? You’re a coward.
WM:                     Why?
CM:                      That false hesitation there – the ‘well, sort of’ bit. Why be so … apologetic about it? Why not just say friends? Why not commit? You’re afraid you’ll have to send them Christmas cards, aren’t you?
WM:                     No, I’m not. It’s … oh, you wouldn’t understand.
CM:                      Huh, I can read you like a book.
WM:                     Oh yeah?
CM:                      Yeah. Your pathetic habit of chucking in big words now and then and pretending to be clever.
WM:                     That’s not true.
CM:                      It is. You’re just covering your backside all the time. So busy not offending people you’re actually licking their…
WM:                     No I’m not.
CM:                      Course you are.
WM:                     You know, you’re one of the nastiest characters I’ve written for ages.
CM:                      (Sardonic grin.) Huh, you just don’t like the truth. You want them all to think you’re a young, vibrant…
WM:                     No I don’t. I’ve told them I’m a granddad. Even used a shot of my grandson to illustrate this.
CM:                      Yeah, why? For the sympathy vote. You just hope they’ll say ‘Poor old bugger’ and let you get away with stuff.
WM:                     You know what? You’re just spiteful, one of those guys who need to undermine others because of your own inadequacy.
CM:                      Hmmm. Interesting. You realise I’m you, don’t you?
WM:                     Er … well, yes. But…
CM:                      Better keep quiet about the inadequacies then, eh? Better change the subject. Do one of those wandering off at a tangent things to convince visitors the British have got a quirky way of thinking. Image, image, image – that’s all you care about.
WM:                     If that was true, I’d hardly have messed it up by letting them see you, would I?
CM:                      Who knows? You’re the writer. You’re the one responsible for this abstruse, rambling garbage.
WM:                     Hmmm, thanks. ‘Abstruse’ – nice. That should impress a few…
CM:                      Oh no, I’m not doing your obfuscation for you. Hey, stop it.
WM:                     What?
CM:                      Making me say stuff like ‘obfuscation’. Next you’ll have me questioning whether Schoenberg’s atonal music really was degenerate art. Damn.
WM:                     Right, instead of the hyper-criticism, what I’d really like you to do for me now is an exegetical analysis of  Joyce’s Ulysses, or perhaps a quick ‘Existentialism for Beginners’.

I’m sorry to say that, at that point, Character-Me clapped his hand over his mouth and refused to continue. See? The writer always gets his/her way.


Jean Henry Mead said...

Yes, writers do get their own way (usually), but mine lead me on a merry chase. BTW, which of my emails prompted this post, Bill? :)

Bill Kirton said...

It was way back, Jean - maybe a month or so after you'd encouraged me into this whole blogging routine and I was still learning how it was supposed to work. I'm still not sure I do but I get more and more convinced that the best strategy is based on humour. Trouble is, what's funny to one is tedious to another - and then there's the UK/USA attitudes to humour - but that's another whole blog.

Mark W. Danielson said...

Bill, you put more thought into pleasing your audience than me. I write about topics I enjoy, and it's nice if others enjoy reading them. For me that works better than trying to please anyone, and it's a lot easier, too.

Bill Kirton said...

A much more sensible approach, Mark. In my defence, though, I'd say that OK, yes, I'd prefer to please readers but, equally, I'd like to provoke them. Not into belligerence or antagonism but into being made more curious by what I say and pursuing their own lines of thought on it. I hate it when I preach.

Jackie King said...

My conversations with my writer-self go something like this:
Jackie: "Come on WS, no one talks like that! Bring this down to a real-person level."

Don't give that much thought to my audience until I'm editing. Probably should, just can't seem to carry that much in my head without it exploding.

Jaden Terrell said...

Great post, Bill. I can just see you and your character arguing.

Mine goes something like this:

Me: Jared, why don't you do a guest appearance on this week's blog?
JM: Oh, no. I don't blog. And I don't do interviews.
Me: But all the other characters are doing it!
JM: If all the other characters were jumping off a bridge would you ask me to jump too?
Me; Well, no but...
JM: There you go.
Me: But...but...
JM: Gee, time's up. Gotta go muck stalls and change the oil in the pickup. Good luck with that blog thing.

Jaden Terrell said...

By the way, I love the part where your character claps his hand over his mouth and refuses to continue.

Bill Kirton said...

Jackie, this has been an interesting post for me in that the responses to it have revealed that I do seem to 'write for an audience'. (I know, we all do really, but not as consciously as I seem to.) Strangely, though, if asked I'd say that's not the way I work, and when I'm editing, I'm definitely my own audience, reading stuff aloud, listening for rhythms and things.

Beth, sounds as if your dialogues with the writer inside you are pretty much the same as mine. Worryingly, too, in both cases, the WS character seems the more attractive/interesting. Any psychologists out there care to comment?

Jaden Terrell said...

I think Jared is way more interesting than I am. He's a heck of a nice guy, too; he just doesn't think he has anything to blog about. He figures he's telling me his stories, which reveal as much of his inner self as anybody should have a right to ask for.

Bill Kirton said...

It's the positive side of a writer's multiple personality syndrome.