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I love being a writer. I truly do. As a teacher I attempt to center the core of my instruction around the idea of building better writers. Though I may love literature as an art form, I also understand that in the current educational climate the ability to understand the dramatic themes in The Crucible comes secondary to advanced literacy and written communication skills. I try to teach my students the intricacies of using the English language to make themselves understood and how mastery of communication is one of the single most important traits they can attain when it comes to their eventual attempts to move upward in their careers or in societal circumstances.
Nobody can ever accuse me of not having a deep appreciation for the form of writing, and I find immense satisfaction in the act itself. Writing One Fate For Failure was one of the most emotionally fulfilling endeavors I have ever engaged in. I am unimaginably proud of it as a piece of my creative output and I have loved hearing the responses to it from the meager audience it has attracted since its release. (*Side-note: The only available editions thus far are the hardcover, which I know is massively overpriced, and the Kindle edition. I am hoping to have a more affordable paperback edition out soon. I promise it is something I am working tirelessly on as we speak.) What I do not enjoy, or am at least uncomfortable doing on a large scale, is the self-promotion that comes along with the release of a creative work.
This blog is updated with no real attention to regularity. I will simply write when it strikes me as being appropriate. I also have a hard time keeping up with Twitter. Part of this is because I am not a creator with any established cultural awareness. More simply put, my creative work is not popular enough to pay the bills. As such I have a job that takes up a good deal of my time and I cannot dedicate my entire existence to selling the thing that I have spent so much time creating.
The fact of the matter is this; if you create something you want the world to see, if you intend to maintain control of that creation you must also be willing to accept responsibility for the success or failure of that creation.
Thus far, I feel like I have not been living up to the current standard necessary to get the word out for my new novel. I can’t place the fizzle of a reaction to its release to anybody but myself. I just haven’t had the time, or perhaps the drive necessary, to promote the thing 24/7.
The point of writing this isn’t to lament that the book didn’t set the world on fire however. I didn’t have any expectation of that at all. In truth, the number of people who have taken the time to download and read the book has brought a smile to my face. It is also seemingly garnering far more positive a reaction than Grave Danger ever did. No, the point of writing this is to talk about whether a creative work only has value if it has an audience.
John Steinbeck once said that the “audience is one single reader. I have found that sometimes it helps to pick out one person-a real person you know, or an imagined person-and write to that one.” I don’t have any true inkling of how many people will read anything I write at any given time, these little essays included. Therefore, I write using myself as an audience surrogate and, in all honesty, simply hope that somebody else enjoys it.
In my mind, the joy of writing isn’t necessarily the idea of those creations finding an audience once I’ve published them, though it is an added bonus. To me, a true creator pushes the content out of their soul because they don’t know any other way to exist. I feel like there was a time when I didn’t think of my writing in this way, but I have slowly but surely come around to this mindset after spending enough time in reflection to grasp the concept that not everything that is great ever finds an audience and sometimes things that never need to see the light of day somehow find their way into the greater consciousness of popular culture.
I recognize that the tone of this essay is a bit scattershot. Perhaps it is because my emotional attachment to my creative output leads to such peaks and valleys. What I hope the supposed audience of this writing will take away is that creativity both is and is not a commodity, and even if nobody ever reads a single line of your creative output, that does not mean it is not valid and a beautiful culmination of creative determination.
All of that said, please be sure to buy One Fate for Failure on Amazon. I think you’ll love it.
“So, what I told you was true…from a certain point of view.”
I think about those lines, spoken by Obi-Wan Kenobi in Return of the Jedi quite a bit when it comes time to start writing something new. Whose point of view am I telling the story from? Are they reliable in their narration? What is their voice? Is it the best means of transmitting the story in my head to my readers.
In One Fate for Failure, I made the decision to write in the first person. I felt like a great deal could be added to the narrative by filtering it through Maddie’s perspective. The entire tone of the story depended on her voice being an ever present force in the text. Take for example this bit of expository inner-dialog that we get from her in the first chapter;
Rick was ex-Delta and I was Naval Intelligence. We were as different as two people could be, but we had a mutual respect that made us gel in ways that lots of people wished they could. There were plenty of people in the intelligence community who didn’t care for me much at all for one reason or another. I couldn’t tell you why. Well, I could but I won’t because it’s crass and I don’t have the stomach for it. I come from a family that was always big on being proper. My parents were New England blue blood through and through. Cape Cod in the summer type of folks. They raised me to have manners and be respectful like a lady should. Then they died in a boating accident like the worst kind of east coast cliché and in my adolescence discovered a lot of things about myself while rebelling to manage my grief.
If I were to try to re-write that same excerpt of text from a different perspective, the same information would be conveyed but it is the fact that the details being relayed are being voiced by the character herself that lend it the appropriate tone. She is making these observations about herself and that somehow, to me at least, makes the whole passage more legitimate and serves the character better. While Maddie is telling us what is going on in her head, feeding us information, the fact that she is divulging this sort of backstory lets us know that she has a self-analytical mind and thus the layered distribution of information makes for a deeper reading experience.
I have only written in first person once before, in 2012’s Grave Danger. I’m not sure if a pattern is emerging or if my two recent writing exercises demanded a first person narration due to the conventions of their genre. At its heart, Grave Danger is a detective noir, albeit filled with paranormal elements, and the whole thing played out in black and white with that growly voice over narration that was ever present in those early detective films of classic Hollywood. One Fate for Failure’s first person perspective was driven by my desire to round out my central character. There was a central motivation there. It didn’t so much have to do with convention, seeing as it was a take-off of Fleming and his progeny.
So how do you make that final decision as to what perspective to write from? What is the best way to tell your story?
The truth is that it depends on authorial purpose. As a teacher I try to explain authorial purpose to my students and some of them rebel at the idea because they say “well how the hell would I know what he was thinking?” But as a writer your purpose should be clear in your head before you ever sit down to write. I knew when I began outlining One Fate for Failure that I wanted to subvert tropes found in the spy genre and make a comment on those same conventions. I knew that I would want to throw some winks at the audience and the best way to do that was to have the narrator make them for me. That only works within the context of the genre if the narration is first person. Add that to the fact that I wanted my prose to have the rich, layered delivery of information that I mentioned earlier and the choice was practically made for me.
Ask yourself why you want to write and what you are seeking to accomplish. Then you can make the decision as to what perspective to write from. If you can answer those questions, it should be a fairly easy process. If you can’t answer those questions, your story probably isn’t ready to be written yet. I’m already prepping my next project. It’s outlined and ready to go. I know that I want to tell a story that, again, subverts a particular genre, but I want to play within those conventions and as such I know that this time around I will be utilizing an omnipotent third-person narrator. My aim with this is to give the proceedings a feel akin to a folk-tale, as if the story is being related years down the line from someone who heard it from someone else.
A writer needs to be self-analytical to be worth a damn. It is a primal urge to get our stories onto the page but we also have to resist the urge to let the story control us as writers. The story works in service of your own authorial intent. Never lose sight of that.
Over the last few days, I have been outlining heavily for my NaNoWriMo entry this year. I’ve spoken a bit about how One Fate For Failure took a very long time for me to complete and the reason for that is due to my reluctance to spend too much time outlining and instead allow my boundless creativity to take me in new and exciting directions.
Of course what happened was I would write myself into a corner and would have to toss aside dozens of pages and rebuild from scratch. That’s why when the book first came about it was about someone named Alyssa who couldn’t be any more dissimilar from Maddie as a character if I tried and the title was No Fate For Failure which in retrospect makes very little sense at all. The point is that I put a great deal of faith in my ability to write extemporaneously and I have come to understand that I am not the sort of writer who can pull off such a feat.
Luckily, my renewed dedication to the world of outlining has borne some nutritious fruit. I am often waffling back and forth on the way I structure my narratives. One of the things I have debated with myself over time and time again is the very concept of the prologue. When is it appropriate to use one? Is it cheating to include it? From the meager research I’ve done into the concept, the prologue is derived from Euripedes and the purpose was to replace a perfunctory, exposition-heavy first act.
Looking at the type of novels I have written, and examining the stories I have tried to tell, I cannot really look at a single one and argue against not only the inclusion of but the necessity of a prologue. In A Dark Tomorrow I utilized a vignette to set the mood and tone of the piece, introducing a character and the setting. I could have utilized this space in order to do some world building in order to eliminate some more exposition heavy chapters in the middle of the book, but as a rookie novelist I made many mistakes in that particular story. I am still insanely proud of it because, hey, it’s my first novel and its like my child that I can never truly stay mad at.
With The Song Before Nightfall, I wanted to make sure that readers had an understanding of the geography and history of the fantasy world I had created. This was doubly important because I didn’t shill out the money necessary to have a graphically inclined person draft a map of the locations that would be included in the narrative. There is no clearly drawn illustration of Adacia and the surrounding kingdoms the way there was for Tolkien’s Middle-Earth or Martin’s realms in A Song of Ice and Fire. I had to utilize my words in order to set the stage. To do this within the context of the narrative would take forever. It would have ballooned massively out of control. That is not something I wanted to happen.
One Fate For Failure does not have a prologue. The thing jumps right in. I made a conscious choice to do this in order to work within the conventions of the genre. Now, the first chapter acts like a prologue in the same fashion that most of the pre-credits sequences for a James Bond film do, but I don’t consider it to be a prologue in same way that I do the first few pages of The Song Before Nightfall.
What is my point you may ask? Well, for anyone wondering whether they need a prologue to begin their story, you really have to ask yourself some questions;
- Can this information be worked organically into the narrative?
- Sometimes it truly is better to hit the ground running, and a prologue can feel unintentionally inhibiting to a reader. If the prologue you have crafted doesn’t give them a sense of understanding, it likely needs to be rethought or excised.
- Remember, a prologue serves the purpose of replacing what would normally serve as a first act. Depending on the type of story you’re writing, a prologue can enhance the feeling of entering the narrative in medias res, even if it truly is the beginning of the arc you’re wishing to tell.
- Does it fit with the genre of writing I am working in?
- Some genres just work better without a prologue. Sometimes you want to be careful not to give too much away. The piece I am currently working on absolutely requires a prologue in my opinion because the reader may need the historical context to understand the story. Working in historical fiction, readers will often need that context in order to feel comfortable with the story you are attempting to tell.
- Does it MATTER?
- This is the big one. Is it a big ol’ waste of space or does it contribute something. I am a firm believer that it is better to have a shorter final product than have a bloated end product that suffers at the expense of appearing bulkier. I know people want to get their money’s worth but always remember that every decision you make should be done in service of the narrative.
The big deal here is really context. Does what you are offering up in the prologue provide necessary context for your reader? Do they gain something from that information? If not, then why are you bothering to include it? When you are writing it is important to keep your audience engaged. Nobody will come back to read your next book if they felt you wasted their time with your last effort.
You spend a lot of time writing, make sure you make it worth their’s to read it.