Thursday, 10 December 2009

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 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, smart-arse, prove it.

Writer- Me (WM): What?

CM: Make me do and say things for Scary, Marley, Michael and the others.

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. You laugh like hell when you read Michael’s blogs and you know you can’t make him laugh as much so you chuck in big words now and then and pretend to be clever.

WM: That’s not true.

CM: Yes it is – and now you know he’s impressed by you being dumped by a girl to Tchaikovsky, you’re probably looking up the names of other composers to drop into your postings.

WM: That’s rubbish.

CM: No it’s not. You wouldn’t try that with Gary, would you? Gary knows stuff. Gary’s wise. And it’s not just about ancient Greece, it’s about the Beatles and guitars and lyrics. You’re trying to be as smart as he is.

WM: No I’m not. And anyway, Michael’s wise too.

CM: See, 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. Same with Jean. She started you blogging. And she interviews real writers for one of her blogs, so you have to impress her, too.

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’d like Marley to think you’re the writerly equivalent of that bloke whose abdomen you stole to illustrate that blog earlier.

WM: No I wouldn’t. I’ve told them I’m a granddad.

CM: Yeah, why? For the sympathy vote. You just hope they’ll say ‘Poor old bugger’ and let you get away with stuff.

WM: Anyway, before I let you say anything about Marley, I need to check the score in the latest Saints game.

CM: Coward.

WM: Hey shut up with the coward crap.

CM: Ooooh, touched a nerve, have I?

WM: I don’t think you know what nerves are. 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 Linda you’ve got a quirky way of thinking.

WM: Linda knows what she’s talking about. She’s another who gets other writers involved, encourages them to reveal their methods.

CM: Pity you don’t have a method. You’re too busy creating ‘the right image’.

WM: Huh, well I cocked it up by letting them see you, didn’t I?

CM: Who knows? You’re the writer. Why’ve you let me go on like this? Why can’t you be like Scary?

WM: What d’you mean?

CM: You’ve read her blog. What you see is what you get. She’s funny and she says exactly what she thinks. God knows why she comes here to read this rambling garbage.

WM: Hey, you know nothing about any of them. For example, did you know that Sheila was a ‘Mongrel Christian’?

CM: Course I did. I read her profile. What beats me is why she reads your unbelieving, absurdist nonsense.

WM: Because Christians forgive maybe. Anyway, in the last blog of hers I read she had the sentence ‘Mum’s here with Christmas in her smile’. I think that’s great.

CM: Look, if you want this to be a real conversation, can you cut out the sycophancy?

WM: Hmmm, thanks. Sycophancy. Michael’ll like that. So will Anneke.

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. That’s for bloody Michael, isn’t it?

WM: Maybe. Anyway, 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 have to report that, at that point, Character-Me clapped his hand over his mouth and refused to continue. See? The writer always gets his/her way.


  1. Well, though you were trying to unconvince me, you failed. You ARE brilliant and this was very timely.

    You make a valid point about writing for the reader. The last couple days I've been the reader and have gotten quite discouraged, letting my internal critic take over. 'How am I going to know how to pull all these clues together? Are there too many bodies, too many odd characters for whatever reason.' Today I begin being the writer again and I WILL take control! I WILL! I hope. Saint 12-0!!!!

    I have to check Scary and Linda and Sheila's blogs out.

  2. Well, you know the quote about fooling some of the people some of the time? I'm managing to fool you all of the time. Thanks Marley.

    As for your switch from reader to writer, it's the sort of thing I try to tell students - writers have to be different people - idea generators, writers, readers, editors (not to mention market analysts, publicists, P R experts etc. nowadays).

    And now I'll confess something which will endear me to you. I have a fridge magnet of a Saints' helmet which I bought when I was in New Orleans with my wife many Christmases ago. But I also have the 49ers and the Patriots. I'm hedging my bets.

  3. I think it is all about this:
    "[...]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’."

    It's about getting attention. The blogger as well as the ones who are posting comments. And together we're all creating fictional characters of ourselves and the others. All dying to get attention, until we disappear into thin air as if we have never been here. Or there, or...

  4. I knew it. None of us exists. This is all an illusion. It's quite a nice one though, so I think I'll preserve and perpetuate it.

  5. So you admit it's all about getting attention? And is it attention for the real offline you, or for the blogging character you created? Do you like readers who post comments better than silent readers? Are 100 people buying your book worth more than 10 who borrow it from the library + send you fanmail? Or is it the other way around?
    What's better: People who like your blog but ignore the books, or the readers of your books who ignore the blog?
    Just some questions that came up. :-)

  6. Anneke, I'm going to dodge the 'which you is it?' question because that would take ages to tease apart.

    As for the rest - I don't care if my readers make comments, stay silent, eat peanut butter sandwiches, wear lederhosen, do morris dancing, have filthy habits, organise their canned foods in alphabetical order or anything else. It's nice but not essential to get feedback. (NB NOT fanmail.)

    The blog/books question's interesting. It would be nice if the readers of one wanted to read the other but again, it's not essential. The books are self-contained things about topics that interest me but they contain people other than me.

    And, since none of us exists, it's all hypothetical anyway.

  7. Hey Tchaikosky Dude, if nobody reads the book/ blog does that mean it's never been written?

  8. Michael, since you're a friend, you can call me Pyotr Ilyich. If nobody reads the book/blog it means it's been written but never been finished. Deep, eh?

  9. We writers are chameleons. Sometimes we write for ourselves and sometimes we write for our readers.

    Does it really matter why? Or when? We don't know who the hell we/they are anyway! Not really.

    What truly draws me to the words a person writes are the humor and the sincerity. I may not know who you are Bill, but I can tell when you're funny and that you're sincere.

    P.S. Don't worry about disappointing me, either. I'm not fickle.

  10. BTW, who's the cutie with the teeth?

  11. This is, indeed, timely.

    I knew when I wrote a shallow and silly posting about politicians looking good, or bad
    (Cherie's mouth and Putin's torso) my readers would bite my head off. I knew it, and yet, I rebelled. Rebelled against the predictable. I am just fed up saying what other people believe is the right thing to say. I also don't believe in God, and i know a lot of my readers do. In fact, I have a very mixed bunch there. Some are Christians, some are Jews, (hopefully no Scientologists) and a few Muslims. So, I knew it was dangerous to openly say what I think. But isn't it the whole point of blogging? Freedom to say something that otherwise would get cut out/edited by someone PC? :)

  12. I agree again Linda. Once we get into the writing, that's all that exists - not us, not the readers. But the words are there on the page (or screen) and they tell the truths (even the truths we'd rather keep hidden).

    And the 'cutie with the teeth' is my handsome grandson. I'd thought of using a distorted double picture of me to illustrate the dialogue with self but such egocentricity appalled me, so I chose the duality of the angelic face with the evil painted over it. A choice so subtle that I didn't understand it myself.

  13. I agree with Scaryazeri: it is frustrating to feel one is obligated to say the PC thing, what other people expect/want. Two things I personally find attractive about the process of aging are the tendency to seek the approval of others less and the tendency to care more about being genuine than PC.

    We don't all have to agree, boys and girls, that's what makes life interesting.

    Scaryazeri, I do not share your lack of belief in God, but I admire you for having the courage to share your opinion in a world largely populated by people who do believe in God. I also respect you for having the courage to do so. I'll continue to read your blog because--as a reader, I believe you write from the heart, and with sincerity, which appeals to me.

  14. Linda,

    Thank you! As Ali G would say- Respect. :) You probably don't know Ali G though, do you.
    anyway, thank you.

    I love all this meeting new people via blogs. so much fun.

  15. Scary,
    I read that posting of yours, and the comments on it, and I agree completely with what you say about the freedom to express opinions without them being censored for reasons which have nothing to do with you or your beliefs (or lack of). Which of course also means that your readers are at liberty to say whatever they like by way of response. The only time when that gets nasty is when it becomes personal or the 'critics' are so utterly convinced that they're right that they have no respect for alternative views.

    It hadn't occurred to me to think that it's my decrepitude that's made me less willing to tolerate constraints but I see your point. (Mind you, think of the Hell's Grannies sketch in Monty Python. That's where this gerontocracy may lead.)

    I'm on Scary's part of the belief spectrum but I don't think it makes any difference. As she says, meeting people all over the globe is fun. There are too many negatives in the world at present - it's good to be involved in something which can celebrate the positives (as well as glory in being utterly trivial).

  16. If I'm so wise how come I'm still editing the second book?

    I think I deserve a commission of some sort by the way for introducing Scary to you. Readers like her you can't get just anywhere.

    A Merry Saturnalia to everyone on Bill's blog. Yo Saturnalia!

  17. Gary, wisdom AND professionalism - a winning combination. And (re. Scary) exactly what did you have in mind by way of a percentage? And a percentage of what? But I do agree that she has that je ne sais quoi as well as some je ne sais comment and je ne sais pourquoi.
    And, while I limp happily into your Saturnalian revels, I'll direct any others with higher aspirations to address their RSVPs directly to you.

  18. By the way Gary, get a bloody move on with the book. We need to read the finished article.

  19. I haven't been around lately because I'm polishing a 500+ page manuscript. I'm glad I was able to convince you to start a blog, Bill, because you have some of the most interesting and original topics I've read online.

    My reader is me. I'm not concerned with plesing someone else while I'm writing. I'm too involved with listening to my characters dialog and watching them in my mind's eye. They even crop up in my dreams. :)

  20. Someday I'll learn not to rush through comments and check for spelling/typo errors. Pleasing, pleasing, pleasing. That's what your blog site is. :)

  21. Thank you Jean - coming from you that means a lot, (or should I say comming frum yUo that mens a loot). Good luck with the 500 pages. Isn't it awful how, no matter how meticulous one is, those damned typos always seem to creep in.

  22. Yeah yeah yeah. I know I'm late. I'm going as fast as I can on the edits.

    For commission I'll take 10% of all your happiness. You may need to convert it into a different format for emailing.

  23. Hmmm, that'll mean consulting technology supremo Anneke for an HTML version of bliss. (Then she'll want 10% too.)

  24. Bill, html is soooo 2007. I'll get you a Joomla! or Wordpress version, with multiple fancy plug-ins for all kinds of joy, laughter, happiness and bliss. The good news is that you will be able to update it yourself, the bad news (good news for me actually) is that it'll cost you 15%. The other good news (for all of us) is that writers are at their best when they are poor.

  25. See what you've done now Gary. Once she's let out of that cage, she goes berserk. But bloody clever to demand 15% then say writers are best when they're poor.