Friday, 2 December 2011

E is for Effective

There's no such thing as bad writing, or good writing for that matter. There is only effective writing. That's why feedback is so important. You may intend one effect, but you produce another. If you write something that you intend to be funny, and everyone thinks it's sad, then your writing isn't effective. If you read some porn and there's a stirring in your loins, then the writing is effective.

A writer such as Dan Brown is effective for people (and there are many of them) who want lots of action and aren't too bothered by characterisation or style. I like to get involved with characters, so I'm not keen on his work, but I can't deny that it's effective.

I think we can best produce effective writing by knowing what effect we're looking for. I know that sounds like stating the obvious, but not many people think about it when they start to write. Now, it's not helpful to be too self consciously striving for effects when you're writing, certainly not for the first draft.

But as part of the editing process you probably ought to spend at least a little time on thinking who your audience is going to be, what effect you want to have on them, and how you can achieve or heighten those effects. So, in my genre, while I hope people enjoy reading the plots and I hope they like the added layers of history, art knowledge or location that I usually put in, I know that most will be reading for the central relationship and how it develops. I need to make this relationship as effective as possible for the reader.

If I were writing historicals, I'd be focussing in on the period detail. If I were writing crime, I'd focus on the violence/repercussions of violence. If I were writing a detective story, I'd focus on the mystery element, and so on.

Having focussed in on my area, I'm looking for ways to heighten the reader response. For me that means putting believable obstacles in the way of my central relationship, and working through the characters' emotional responses in some detail. That would be quite out of place in a crime novel.

And finally, part of being effective is realising that you can't be everything to everyone. There are cross-over novels, but there are many, many more which are aimed at a single audience. Be as effective as possible within your kind of writing and you won't go far wrong.


Philip C James said...

Wise words as ever.

It reminds me of military thinking (an oxymoron I hear you cry but I used to work in the defence industry). If you analyse a situation you understand there are many different ways of achieving the same desired effect (e.g., fight the bolshie warlord, or pay him to be on your side). Stripped of military jargon: 'there's more than one way to skin a cat'.

Though I hasten to add I have never tried to validate the truth or otherwise of that proverb...

I'm interested in your view on the genre-crossover novel. I guess you either have to be a very experienced writer to judge, or a very lucky beginner to hit on by accident, the optimum way of introducing an innovation from one genre into another without frightening the horses and attracting a wider readership!

Sarah Duncan said...

Phil, I think the first thing is to write the novel of your heart, then worry about what genre. Having said that, most (all?) crossover novels get published originally as one specific genre, it's usually only later that they get marketed as cross-over eg The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-time by Mark Haddon or Harry Potter. For practical marketing purposes, I'd always recommend sticking to one genre and not announcing yours was a crossover novel.