Thursday, March 13, 2008

Writing for you Audience

I've been reading Ursula K. le Guin of late - more about her later - and she's such a great writer, especially the Earthsea Quartet. Now, they should be re-released and promoted by the publishers!

Anyhoo, it's been really helpful to give me a push to get on with my own writing. Though that's led me into a pickle. Not least with my wife, who says: "You can't write a YA book aimed at the 12+ and use words like obsidian and oubliette."

Actually she told me off for my first draft being even beyond her comprehension - sigh. Perhaps I'll never get my act together with learning to write with restraint. I guess that answers the age old question... Who do you write for? Yourself or your audience?

Clearly, I write for myself.

But, I must curb my enthusiasm and write for my audience. Out with obsidian and oubliette, or at least in with some explanation. That said, writing:
At the bottom of the tower where the wall shakes and groans columns of books line the stonework, evoking a solid, impenetrable oubliette - a dungeon with a trapdoor in the ceiling as its only means of entrance or exit.
only supports the argument for brevity and a call to yank oubliette from the page. (I'm still fighting my corner, and by the way, thanks for that succinct description).

So, other than that, mostly good points for simple behaviour, only, I still have my flourishes. Which brings me to my second point...

I wanted to write about those columns of books moving and revolving around the room. Where better to start than by familiarising myself with someone whose already done a similar thing (and no, there is no dishonour in peeking at someone else's work to get an idea at how to jump first first into an issue - Francine Prose practically throttles the writer in the hope they will learn from the best).

So, who do I turn to, remembering a certain scene in a certain book about bricks coming to life and shuffling apart?

JK Rowling... of course. In Chapter Five - Diagon Alley, Hagrid magics a wall to open up and allow them access to the Wizarding World. In the film this is extremely memorable thanks to the those visual wizards, Industrial Light and Magic, who create a spectacle of shuffling bricks, that slide and grind back and forth over one another, reconfiguring like a living, organic structure, until the entrance is clear - almost like a Rubik's cube but with pull out and push in sections.

So, I thought, where better to get a feel for moving brickwork than Harry Potter and the Philosopher's Stone? Where better indeed:
He tapped the wall three times with the point of his umbrella.

The brick he had touched quivered - it wriggled - in the middle, a small hole appeared - it grew wider and wider - a second late they were facing an archway large enough even for Hagrid, an archway on to a cobbled street which twisted and turned out of sight.
It took me a short while to find that short passage, and having read it shuffled off grumbling and moaning and generally besmirching JK's good name for being a weak writer and nothing like as grand as Ursula K. le Guin.

Of course, I wrote my version, ahem:
The circular wall shifts as the words continue to wriggle across the page. The rows of books revolve like some ancient mechanism. One row clockwise, the next anti-clockwise, until all are in motion. They stop, one column breaks at the centre and the upper half rises up through the fog, one book length, to reveal the bare wall behind. The rows revolve a second time, stopping briefly to allow the top-half of another column to slide down into the gap. Two… three… four more times, revolving and separating, sliding and converging. The brick-books reorder themselves like a cylindrical sliding puzzle until all halt and a gap, the width of two books, comes to a stop before the great book and its pedestal.
But, as my wife now points out. Look at the size of the passage. Along with my occasional grandious words, this passage does little to push along the plot (other than generate a gap in the brick-book work) but does a lot to slow the reader down. Is a 12 year old going to care? Especially, I must consider whether or not the kind of audience I'm after - reluctant readers (it's all part of my game plan) - are going to stop there and think, so what?

I don't like it one bit and yet I must bow to my audience. I must set aside my own wants and think of them. How relevant is it? I must levy myself to JK's way, focus the reader's attention instead on what is important.



solv said...

Makes sense buddy.
Really, I skipped your description of moving bricks as would most people BECAUSE we want to get to the cool stuff.
Or, you could consider the description from the pov of pacing. Does the reader need a break at this point?
Incidentally, JKR did sketch the opening of Diagon Alley: I remember her showing the sketch in some documentary. It's great to have this stuff clear in your head, but it's a rare skill editing down to the rollercoastering bones.

R1X said...

What? You skipped it?! How rude.

Thanks, I've just had a nice note from MG about it too, regarding the "... case of the MEGO (My Eyes Glaze Over) when they hit a descriptive passage."

As she suggests, I'm going to have to start forcing myself to get bored with description.

We're our own worst enemies. :)

esruel said...

'At the bottom of the tower where the wall shakes and groans, columns of books line the stonework…'
So begins a piece of excellent writing. What follows disappoints the reader - both the immediate following bit, and the larger piece you ended up with. I believe all you need to do is to think hard about that opening line, and create an extra piece in the same vein to follow it, to round off the description. About the same size, perhaps, and even less. But not more. The starkness of the description seems much more inviting and evocative than all of the sliding books/bricks, and describes an oubliette in a far better way.
Calling it an oubliette afterwards, or later as part of the narrative, could/would add to the education of 12+ readers, if that was part of the purpose.
I hope you're going to write this one all the way - sounds too good for you not to!

solv said...

I've encountered this problem loads ricardo. In TL, I was faced with describing a towering musical contraption. It's possibly one of the first things I wrote (when I decided I wanted to write properly like what proper authors do). First, I sketched the thing, and then used the sketch to create some amazing (as in elaborate and flowery) prose ... hundreds of words of the stuff.
When I came back to it a year later, I was horrified. I managed to cut the description down to a couple of sentences. So, I lost all those marvellous tambourines woven with thread and thrum, and the serpentine horns and the bracketed shakers lining their bellies, and so forth, and suddenly the thing didn't seem quite so magical or impressive :-(
But, I guess, the pace became more impressive and, with it, the forward momentum and reader's immersion.
I'd say it's worth working to identify the important stuff - the stuff that grabs the reader and presses him to the pages - and recognizing that everything else needs serious justification before going in.
All easier said than done eh :-)

R1X said...

Thanks guys. I suck! But I have it in me to blow, too. ;)

I'll thunk on.

esruel said...

You've never even remotely sucked, Rich. And with this latest one, you've got a chance to show just how hard you can blow. You and solvey have so much talent. It really is only a matter of time for you both.
That one excellent short piece in this post, and the other related piece earlier in your blog, are the seeds of something that could grow into something very great. To me, if you can capture the soul of those two pieces and weave it into the whole book, you will not have to look far for an agent. Seriously. There is a feel about it that makes you want to read a story like that.

solv said...

I agree with Esy.
I love the library story, but I don't want to read about moving bricks: I want to get to all that cool stuff you have lined up!
Details are useful for creating mood and for exposition but, unless they're cleverly blended in, they stop the forward momentum, and that's where the reader is likely to close the book or skip ahead.
Btw, have you ever tried describing unexpected things? There are peculiar benefits to this!