Being an author is like being in charge of your own personal insane asylum.

- Graycie Harmon

Thursday, September 3, 2009

Some Damned Tough Questions Part I

Here's a great quiz for aspiring authors I found at:
An editing/formatting/self-publishing house. They are actually quite informative and not very biased. I was pleasantly surprised.

No, I'm not going to self-publish, but these are good questions to ask yourself. I've provided some very feeble answers, but feel free to take the quiz and insert your own answers.

I'm using this as a sort-of self-interview.


1. What are your personal reasons for writing this book?

The book really wrote itself. I mean, it was my fingers doing the typing, for sure, but it was the book, or at least the characters that directed the tale. For me, it was like this alive thing (for lack of a better word) inside me that just needed to get out. Sounds like the literary equivalent of Aliens really...

2. What are you trying to accomplish by writing and publishing your book? (Be specific.)

The fulfilment of a dream, I suppose would be the answer. Even if the dream is quite recent (only in the past two years or so), it is incredibly powerful and exceptionally forceful. I don't really understand properly why I want this story to reach a broad audience. Is it for the recognition? Well, yes, I suppose. I would like to be recognised for the work I've put into it. Even still that doesn't quite cover why I have this bizarre compulsion to write and publish.

3. In what format do you see your story (novel, short story, motion picture, etc.)?

It's clearly a novel. Actually, a series of novels.

4. What is the medium for your story (book, magazine, etc.) ?

Um, is this not just a re-working of the previous question? It's a book. Well, four of them.

5. Who is the primary audience for whom your story is written?

Absolutely, unequivocally mature adults. There were scenes I wrote that turned my stomach a little. This is definitely not for children.

6. What is your premise? (What are you setting out to prove?)

I really like this question!

I really didn't have a premise when I started writing the book, it just sort of happened that as I was re-reading the text, I was struck by it's message. I really wasn't trying to push any line at all. Of course it is a Fantasy title, so there are strange races, and some magic, and monsters and so on.

Yet beneath all of there there is this one, incredibly powerful message. The message is two-fold: that the manner in which we treat others has a profound effect upon them and that we create for ourselves the very things we fear most. In other words, treat others well or you might just create of them the monster you were fighting against in the first place.

7. How strongly do you believe in the truth of your premise? (If you do not hold a strong conviction about your premise, how do you expect to write with conviction? Remember, the reading public demands integrity!)

I can relate from personal experience. There is something cyclical about cause and effect. I was bullied as a child, quite badly at times. I was accused of snobbery and other nonsense because I withdrew from contact with people as a result of the bullying, which caused more bullying, which caused greater withdrawal until I was every bit (outwardly at least) the arrogant, snobbish, horrible little bitch people had accused me of being. Only when someone dared to break through the ice they had created did they realise that underneath it all, I wasn't as evil as everyone said I was.

Unfortunately, later in life, I was also the victim of work-place bullying (by three different people, at the same place!), and it really did create a hateful, vengeful monster out of me. Luckily I was loved by my family and the few friends I had enough for me to struggle my way out of being such a small, cruel person. It wasn't easy, let me tell you.

8. How sure are you that your premise has enough substance, or is compelling enough, to sustain audience interest?

Everyone has been a child in their lives. Everyone has known, even if only briefly or vaguely, the sting of not fitting in, of not being accepted for who they are, of feeling not good enough, of feeling unloved. No one should ever feel unloved.

For some, the feeling is stronger, fresher and more hurtful than for others, but everyone knows it. Everyone has struggled with their own personal monster. Some people make it, some don't. I think that because everyone has caught a glimpse of their own monster, they will understand this character and narrative, even if only intuitively.

9. What effect will the nature of your audience have on your choice of premise or the way you'll develop the premise?

It had absolutely no effect whatsoever. The series was pretty much written before I even noticed a theme.

10. How quickly have you established the first part of the premise? Is the reader engaged quickly, or do they have to work patiently to "get into" it?

The first part of the premise? Well I suppose that would be that some monsters are not born, but are made. That was done in the first section, I think.

11. Is your premise still perfectly clear to you, even after close analysis?

My premise only became clear to me because of close analysis!

12. Can you state the premise of your work in fewer than 10 words?

I think I did: "treat others well or you might just create of them the monster you were fighting against in the first place."

No, apparently I didn't. That was twenty words.

"Treat people well." There we are!

13. Does your book say something important?

It's important to me.

14. If you doubt that you've said something important, why continue?

I am convinced that this is something that other people will find important, but I can't rightly speak for them. I did it because I just needed to get the words out on paper. The rest just kind of happened.

15. What different premise would accomplish your aim?

I don't think there could have been another premise if I tried.

16. Have you reached your destination? Has your premise been carried to its logical conclusion?

Yes, but I'm not going to spoil the end of the series here!

17. If the premise has not been proved, did you get confused or lose sight during the progression of the text? If so, how can you get back to your original premise? Or, do you need to revise the premise from the beginning?

Even if I wanted to, I couldn't change it.

18. Do you provide documentation and / or appropriate attribution for facts and / or events set forth in support of your premise?

It's Fantasy. I made up my facts. Of course, gravity still applies.

19. Have you obtained written permission to utilize all quotes and / or data obtained from other sources?

I believe that the quotes I used are covered by the Fair Use Act. If not, I'll be told as much. Though, I can't much ask Shakespeare, now, can I? Séance anyone?

20. How is your book different from other books in the same category? or Bowker's SUBJECT GUIDE TO BOOKS IN PRINT are good places to research this question.

It's dark. Very dark. School for wizards this is not (although I am a huge Harry Potter fan!).

21. How big (in your estimation) is the market for this book?

Fantasy, from my understanding, is on the up right now. It's chic to be geek. With things as upsetting as they are now in the world, I think the need to escape into other worlds has become much greater. But, I am a geek, so that might be just my friends and I.

22. What do you believe are the best ways to reach that market?

Good question. A marketer I am not. I've started a couple of things on my own to drum up some grass-roots stuff (my blog, a facebook fan page and profile, several networking sites etc.). I suppose Comic Con would be a great place to go to reach all those Fantasy and Science Fiction buffs that exist in the world... But I'll only go there if I am published.


K said...

What a curious question 7 is. So much so that it's repeated in the next question.

There patently isn't any truth in a fictional premise. Otherwise it'd be an auto-biography. If we are limited to things we've experienced or believe in, then there cannot be any real fiction, just a world full of well written diaries.

It simply doesn't matter, as long as a story has an internal consistency. I do not, for one moment, think that Rowling, Pratchett or Tolkien actually stepped back from their work and went "you know, this is complete hokum, as I have no experience of quidditch, wizards, or hobbits, but it might sell", but it wouldn't change my opinion of their work if they had done so.

Any novel depends on delivering one of two things; a message (to kill a mockingbird, in cold blood) or entertainment (Harry Potter, Discworld). Some, by happy coincidence do both. But if the "truth" is that good always triumphs (it doesn't), or that the bad guys always get their comeuppance (they don't) then the message is rendered worthless.

A good story leaves a reader happy, or sad, or traumatised.

As long as they don't feel they can leave it unfinished, then you have done your job.

If you need to put a little of your experiences in life into the story, or into a character, to flesh them out, then go ahead.

If your novel is written because you were beaten by someone as a child, and this is your way of getting back, or working it out, equally go right ahead. Empassioned writing is always more interesting than the alternatives.

There are countless examples of people who have somehow miffed authors in the past to a point where they have end up as characters in a novel, or a film.

Been there, done that. It's quite fortunate that the world is full of stupid, mean, crazy people, or creating characters which need, or quite frankly, deserve to be defeated in print would be considerably harder.

Writing is, after all, a kind of dysfunctional therapy, which perversely can turn a profit....

S. M. Carrière said...

I particularly like your last comment... "Writing is, after all, a kind of dysfunctional therapy, which perversely can turn a profit...."
Very truly spoken!

I must say though, that none of this came to my attention until I had finished the series and started going through the questions here. As I was writing, I had no explanation for anything.

If asked: "Why?" the answer would have been: "Because that's the way it goes." Not especially insightful, I'll admit, but I just really wasn't aware of any of this other stuff until I thought about it later.

That's why I like these questions so much, I think.