Tag Archives: writing styles

Reader Audiences Matter Most: To whom are you appealing?

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The question in the title of this post can’t always be answered.

This is not a book review, but I am taking the liberty to use The Goldfinch to make some of my points. I’m only a little more than halfway finished with this book and I usually don’t look at other reviews until I have completed the book and written my own review when I do book reviews for indie authors. I did read some of the reviews for this book when I approached the halfway mark, because I wasn’t certain I wanted to continue. I have mixed feelings. It’s well-written, and then it’s not. I’ll try to explain.

I read across many genres, and seldom post book reviews for traditionally published books. Gone Girl, The Girl of the Train, Fifty Shades, The Fault in Our Stars and other such reads, have garnered so much attention I feel less compelled to promote them. I mostly provide reviews to promote Indies that I feel I can recommend.

I’ve brought up the issue of commercial fiction versus literary fiction before. I know there are some authors who cross-over exceptionally well and have become quite popular up-market authors.

Annie Neugebauer has a nifty article here explaining the differences and providing some examples:

http://annieneugebauer.com/2014/01/27/the-differences-between-commercial-and-literary-fiction/

Her key points (which are debatable) are as follows:

1.

The aim of commercial fiction is entertainment.

The aim of literary fiction is art.

 

2.

In commercial fiction, the protagonist does the work.

In literary fiction, the reader does the work.

  

3.

In commercial fiction, the writing style is clean and pared-down.

In literary fiction, the writing style takes more risks.

  

4.

The main character of commercial fiction aims to be likable to the reader.

The main character of literary fiction aims to reveal the human condition.

  

5.

Commercial fiction follows genre precepts.

Literary fiction toys with genre precepts.

Granted, there is commercial genre fiction that has aspects of literary fiction, and literary fiction which has aspects of commercial genre appeal, but I think Annie does well to summarize these.

A side note here from SoIReadThisBookToday : http://soireadthisbooktoday.com/2015/02/07/they-are-watching-what-you-read/ Is that much of what is marketed and sold digitally actually isn’t read in the digital form of the most popular books. “With Gone Girl, the third most purchased book at Kobo, only 46 percent of the readers who purchased the book made it to the end. Fifty Shades of Gray? Only 48 percent could stomach it all the way through. The most popular French book, in terms of sales, shows “Le Suicide Français,” may have been a runaway hit in terms of sales, but just 7 percent of Kobo’s French readers made it through the book’s conclusion.”

That tells me that just because a book is trendy, doesn’t mean it was all that well received by the audience.

This doesn’t take into account paper copies sold. I’m still not sure about reviews. Seems like people who really love a book or really hate it are most likely to leave a review. Of course the trendier books will have more positive reviews.

Which brings me back to The Goldfinch, winner of the Pulitzer Prize.

(19,812) Total reviews on Amazon

3.7 out of 5 stars

5 star

8,171

 

4 star

4,152

 

3 star

3,402

 

2 star

2,175

 

1 star

1,912

 

Now this book stayed on the Amazon Top 100 Best Sellers list for months last year. (Long before it became a Pulitzer Prize.) There are reviews posted everywhere. There are even full length books being sold that analyze this piece of work.

It does seem to be one of those books that crosses over to up-market fiction.

It’s artful.

Both the reader and the protagonist have to do some of the work.

The writing style is certainly risky.

There is a great focus on the human condition.

And it does follow genre precepts (primarily mystery novel).

Here’s the deal though: It is the very thing that editors are telling us all the time simply doesn’t work.

Apparently it does.

It is also 755 pages long.

As part of her Indie Authors Series , Jodie Renner tells us:  How to Slash Your Word Count by 20-40% – and tighten your story without losing any of the good stuff!

http://blog.janicehardy.com/2015/02/how-to-slash-your-word-count-by-20-40.html

Is your manuscript too long?

  • Do you have a meandering, overly wordy writing style? If so, you’ll need to tighten it up by cutting all unnecessary words.
  • Do you have long descriptions of the setting or characters, or lengthy character backstory?
  • Are there any scenes that drag, lack in tension and intrigue, or just don’t drive the story forward?
  • Have you or others noticed repetitions of various kinds (imagery, plot points, ideas, descriptions, phrases, words)?
  • In general, can your scenes, paragraphs and sentences be leaner?

 

She goes on to say that you have to “earn your right to write long”. I don’t necessarily agree with that statement. I think it is more a matter of style and what the reader prefers.

 

Most genre commercial fiction and much of what I read that was written by indie authors follows Jodie’s points. These, for the most part, are easy reads. They appeal to a modern audience that wants fast everything. But if you are looking for deeply thought-provoking literature, you are probably not going to find it in a pared down version of a story.

 

The Goldfinch is reminiscent of the greatest literature I have ever read. Jodie Renner, as an editor, would have had a field day with it. And, yet, I see her points. The Goldfinch could have probably been cut of a good 250 to 300 pages and been a much tighter, more readable novel without loosing either that value of the prose or content of the story.

 I am having a Love:Hate relationship with this book. I hope I am able to finish it.

Donna Tartt is inspired by magic, beauty in the everyday, and love…no matter what. The Goldfinch is infused with adventure, love of life, and great souls. There are wonderful passages of clever, artful prose. It appeals to my heart, spirit, and mind.

However, there is stream of consciousness that meanders all over the pages, often not making any point at all relevant to the crux of the story being told. There are miles-long sentences filled with colons, semi-colons, multiple commas that drag through entire paragraphs and will make you cringe and scream. I would like to think there is some masterful symbolism here, but it’s buried deep.

I’m 100% positive that she had to have an exclusive editor that could deeply appreciate her prose.

It all boils down to what audience you are appealing to as an author.

Do you ever really know?

I’ll keep writing my genre fiction crime novel series and maintain that bare bones writing style, but I’m not giving up on my philosophical, artful prose just yet. Maybe with enough practice in both styles, I’ll someday be a popular cross over, up-market author. I won’t hold my breath, but it’s fun to dream.

I don’t envy the parts of The Goldfinch that make me cringe and want to scream, but I do admire that Donna Tartt had the guts to write until her heart was content and put it out here for a reader audience to enjoy.

Short Stories versus Novels

I like to consider myself a novelist. That’s what I do. I may have only published one, but that’s what my writing is geared for, writing novels.

I have been trying my hand at writing short stories for my writers’ group, mostly with prompts. I’ve posted a couple of those here on the blog, but I can’t really say I’m proud of them. I’ve been to some open mic events; both locally and out of town and the short stories I have heard a strong finish or a bite to them, a humorous sideline or some deeply thought-provoking revelation amongst the words.

I’ve also read a few anthologies of short stories and most are 2000-3000 words, succinct, concise words.

I can’t do it in less than 5000 words.

I have a short attention span and I like lots of fast action. I write like that also, a whirlwind of events, one on the heels of another.

There are some really great blogs that feature lots of short stories. Kate Loveton has short stories on her blog and does very well at humor and at making relevant points with her work in few words. Helen Midgely writes some of the best short fiction I’ve ever read. I keep encouraging them to write novels. Mark Paxon writes good introspective and meaningful short stories. They always leave me wanting to read more.

That’s what a short story should do.

I researched writing short stories and found the article by Yale University:  http://www.yale.edu/ynhti/curriculum/units/1983/3/83.03.09.x.html

It struck me as a bit too complicated.

So I looked deeper.

I found this list of the five elements of a short story:

They are true masters at combining the five key elements that go into every great short story: charactersetting, conflictplot and theme.

http://users.aber.ac.uk/jpm/ellsa/ellsa_elements.html

You could say novels are just expanded short stories as the ingredients are much the same, but are they?

My short stories are like little bitty novels.

I found this list of novel features:

  1. Concept – the central idea or proposition from which you create a landscape upon which to tell the story; weak premise, weak story…
  2. Character – checklist-driven criteria for developing backstory, arc, inner conflict and the essence of a hero’s quest…
  3. Theme – the elusive meaning of your story and how it affects readers on multiple levels; in other words, why they’ll care…
  4. Story architecture – a four-part story structure riddled with segments missions, milestones and standards that keep the story growing and moving…
  5. Scene execution – if you can’t boil water you can’t cook up a buffet; this is the crafting of efficient, tense, visceral scenes and narrative…
  6. Writing voice – the assemblage of words you summon as foot soldiers with the mission of carrying your structural strategy to victory.

It would seem that novels are more complex, but that’s not really true. I’m finding writing a short story is harder simply because you are trying to accomplish the same things in fewer words. Maybe I’m overthinking this.

When I approach writing, I tend to do it more by this list of six; except for this statement “if you can’t boil water you can’t cook up a buffet.”

I’m always cooking the buffet.

I feel it requires masterful writing and creativity to pull off a great short story. I applaud people who do it well.

It’s really a whole different style.

I approach writing the same way for short stories and novels. I’ve discovered that my story arc is the same for short stories as it is for novels. You know…you’ve seen this before.

story-arc-1

When it should probably look more like this:

Slide2

 

So, what do you think?

Is writing short stories different for you than writing novels?

Is it easier or more challenging to write the short story?

I’m finding the short story a greater challenge. I think my lilting use of language and verbosity are parts of what present me problems.

Any advice?