Saturday, January 19, 2013

Write what I like, or write what readers like?

As a writer, you have to decide if you write what you like and hope readers will like it, too, particularly today's readers, or do you write what you think today's readers like, and hope they  will also like it? Of course, if your mindset is "I like writing horror," or whatever, and many readers love horror, then you have the ideal situation, that is, you and the readers enjoy the same thing. Of course, I'm talking about writing for publication and financial survival. If you don't care about either, then the point is moot.

I've come to the conclusion that the majority of fiction readers today do not care much for nuances, subtle variation, or poetic language. What do they care about? They want extreme emotion: extreme hatred, extreme love, extreme sex, extreme friendship and the extreme straining of that friendship (maybe it's always been that way, now that I think about it [Sophocles, Homer, Shakespeare, Hugo, Camus, and on and on and on]). The more extreme the better. Of course, it has to work as a story and, preferably, a fast-moving story.

Perhaps it's the result of the television and motion picture industries that we've come to the point we're at now. Slow moving, "normal," has become boring. Abnormal has become appealing. We want our characters to be bigger than life, and their struggles titanic (and violent). We want our characters to be beautiful, but flawed, but beautiful just the same. We want our stories to enthrall.

This is a pretty tall order. But it is doable. We writers have to realize the reality of today's literary marketplace and go for it. Otherwise, our chances of being published and reaping financial success are limited at best.

I'm attempting something that is, for me, new. I'm venturing into crime fiction. I've completed three short stories that I will self-publish as part of a collection when I've written enough to complete a decent-sized collection, say a total of twelve- to fifteen-thousand words. Right now, I've written almost eight-thousand words with the three stories I've completed. I've written a story a week for the past three weeks, and am planning a forth one now. I'd like to write a story a week to reach the five or six or thereabouts stories, revise (proofread primarily), and self-publish. Hopefully I can have a Beta reader or two. But I'm really not too concerned about that. I'm following what I perceive as the Jack London plan of action: just write it; don't worry about perfection. Not every story written by every great writer was a masterpiece. As long as the reader likes it, that's what matters.


Optimistic Existentialist said...

Richard, I say that you should always write what YOU like. When you write about what you like, that's when a writer's passions and talent shine through.

Julia Hones said...

I agree with Keith. You have to like it.

Michael Offutt, Speculative Fiction Author said...

I agree with you for the most part, but I want to add that "what people like to read" is too general.

A writer before he pens a single word must know what his audience is very specifically. Here's an example:

1) Christians
2) Girls under 12
3) Boys over 17
4) Blacks
5) Atheists
6) Cougars (women over 30)

and the list could go on and on.

If you identify your audience, you know what kind of content that they will accept.

If you write for Christians (a HUGE audience), then most likely they will accept gun violence but will not accept any sex at all. It must fade to black and only be done between man and woman. If there is any straying from that, it must be in a villainous trait, or your book won't sell.

If you're writing for'll probably want to have young men with hard bodies and splash some bare-chested beauty on the cover.

Anyway, what I'm trying to say is that knowing your audience before you write is the best way to give you the best chance at success with your marketing and book sales to follow.

Misha Gericke said...

I guess it depends on the writer, but I believe in writing what I would like to read first and then worrying about the market.

That way, my passion and love for the story will help it shine. Not caring about your writing is a surefire way to make it fall flat.

Jeff Hargett said...

I agree with the others. Write what you love. All preferences are shared by others.

Tanya Reimer said...

I admire people who can write "on demand" and do it well.

From my experience, once I am familiar with a certain writer and their works, I have noticed a difference in their writing when it is for a specific planned outcome and when it is simply flowing from them out of passion. I always enjoy the passion writing more, it holds more twists I don't see coming and it always leaves me wanting more.

And so, although I admire those who write on demand, I seek out those who write for the love of it simply because they will make me love it too.

oceanfullofbottles said...

I feel I could never survive on writing, let alone ever have the chance of being published. Because, firstly, I'm not even trying or putting any effort in it though I'm sure it would feel lovely to see my words in print held in the hands of a stranger... on a train, in a cafe, and wherever my dreaminess takes me. But also because I could never write for profit, because I can't force myself to write when I don't feel it. I would never want to worry so much about what others what to read, I could only be propelled by my own passion. Like what Optimistic Existentialist said, write your own passions and not what others want to hear.

Anthony said...

I strive for both...however, in the end, you should write what you like--or writing will be a form of drudgery instead of a pleasure.

Rachna Chhabria said...

Richard, write what you love and like, it becomes easy to write it. But, I do think whether readers will like it or not.

Richard said...

I don't want to give the impression that I pre-planned the stories. They were not pre-planned at all. They were twinkles in my eye, and I just started writing and let them go where they will. I was surprised by the endings. My attempt to please the reader is only in my attempt to write in a popular genre or thematic subject matter. The stories just grew and blossomed as I wrote them.

David P. King said...

If the story doesn't interest me, I don't write it, but I do keep the reader in mind as I write because I have to communicate effectively to them. Maybe a little of both? :)

Clarissa Draper said...

Personally, I think you have a future in crime fiction. I can say this with confidence. I will also gladly do whatever I can to help you on your path.

Richard said...

Thank you, Clarissa. Your comments make me feel 10-feet tall.

Peggy Eddleman said...

I've read some books with beautiful language that I LOVED, even when the plot was lacking. I don't think the desire for beautiful/poetic language is dead. But as far as the basics go--- writing style, characters, setting, plot--- you can be not very good at one of them, and as long as the others really shine, people will forgive it. I definitely say write what you love!

Jon said...

I've long given up on writing to please others. If your words come from your heart and soul, your voice will indeed shine and others will relate to it. The art of poetic writing isn't exactly dead, but unfortunately it's getting harder to find.

Good luck with your crime stories!