Touchy subject, I know. Someday (maybe even soon) some well-educated writer will come along and explain to me why I’m wrong, and I’ll probably feel like an idiot. But for now I am going to share where I am at in this and why. I feel like I have good reasons…
I feel like it is very subtle propaganda sometimes…that message to cater to the audience. And I understand that if you are making your living this way you want something that sells. There is a bit of a supply and demand issue, even among the arts. But in my experience, entertainment that consistently caters to the audience inevitably sells itself short. Think of mainstream art and music (which can be admittedly satisfying) verses the masterpieces created by those artists who often don’t fit into society and pave their own way, ignoring conventions. And here we come to an important question:
What is your purpose in writing? Are you writing to make money? (Nothing wrong with that). Are you writing for fun? Are you writing to discover something new? Are you writing to communicate a specific message?
Some writers do cater to readers and they are very good at it and their novels are very good. In truth, I think most writers have a combination of reasons for writing. As I am growing in the craft I have found myself expanding and adventuring into new territory. At the heart my writing is very philosophical and personal: it is my search to understand and communicate the things I am learning about life. But more recently I have been attempting to step away from my usual style and tell a straightforward, entertaining story. That is probably the closest I have been to “catering to the readers” and the reason I struck so close was because I was catering to myself.
Now, I don’t want you to misunderstand. I am not writing thick, existential “mish mash” that no one could even understand beside myself. My writing has plot, adventure, good characters, and I believe (and have been told) is quite engaging. But when I am making choices about scenes, conflicts, and characters, I rarely ask what the reader would be thinking at this point. I have read a lot of writing advice (and this really is good advice for beginning writers) about how to make a page turner, or how to add more conflict and excitement. They talk about the “how could this situation be worse?” question. It’s definitely a valid tool, and one I use when I find a particular scene feels hollow. But I think there is too great a temptation to amp up every scene and interaction to get an adrenaline rush. It reminds me of the blockbuster action films that just keep adding bigger explosions and ridiculous odds every year because the audience would get bored otherwise.
That is not the writing I want to produce. My argument is that readers will still be interested characters and struggles that ring true whether or not they are big and dramatic. And as a reader, I respect a writer who takes me somewhere new.
One of the most precious things about books are the new perspectives they offer. And one of my goals as a writer is to pioneer those new perspectives for my reader.
My creative process looks a little like me forging a new path in the jungle with my machete, hacking off branches, attempting to follow the hint of a path that has formed in my mind. It is a process of discovery. Now when I reach the end, I go back and repair the path so that my readers can follow. Sometimes this means cutting scenes that I love because they slow the plot. So yes, sometimes it means catering to the readers. But to me that is far different than taking a bulldozer in on the first draft and plowing your way directly to the lake so the readers can ride in by the busload, sipping their lemonade.
Maybe that is a bad analogy ;P
My point is this: when I am in the middle of a draft, the characters and their journey is more important to me than whether or not my reader will like it. I think what I am saying is that the creative process needs to be somewhat independent of popular opinion: that is where true inspiration takes flight.
Hope I made some sense there. Feel free to share your thoughts in the comments below!