by Will Viharo
The relationship between a writer and a reader is very intimate, at least on a cerebral level. You are alone together in the shared imagination of your creation.
And just like any other date with someone you’re trying to woo and seduce, you need to make sure you make the right impression, sustain their interest without being too self-indulgent, and address your audience with a tone ideally suited to the occasion…
As a reader and a writer, atmosphere is everything to me. I love inventing alternate worlds inhabited by unique characters doing interesting things in colorful locations that are hybrids of people and places I’ve actually known, combined with total fabrications.
Still speaking subjectively, the “feeling” of a book is more important to me than the plot. The same goes for movies and music. If the sensation is special enough, I can visit members of any these mediums again and again, without losing my passion for the subject, because I’m continually drawn to that sense of being someplace else fascinating and comfortable. It’s like taking a mental “staycation,” any time of the day or night, wherever I happen to be.
Not every reader, or writer, shares this idiosyncrasy. That’s okay, since the experience of art appreciation is meant to be subjective. No matter how carefully you convey your words, brush strokes or song stylization, the person on the other side of the page or canvas or sound spectrum is going to filter your voice or vision via their own experiences and perspective. That’s what makes art such a unifying yet individualistic phenomenon.
Nobody Fails a Rorschach Test…
But since creativity is the sole expression of the creator, you need to remain true to your own specific agenda, even if you’re experimenting with the literary equivalent of free-form jazz, like Jack Kerouac’s famous stream-of-consciousness style in On the Road, meaning the structure is fluid and unrestrained, but intentionally so, like expressionist cinema or avant-garde paintings. This seemingly improvisational technique in itself requires discipline and purity of purpose.
Depending on what genre you’ve chosen, which then dictates a particular target audience, you will need to compose your work accordingly. And if you’re really aiming for something totally innovative, and possibly revolutionary, that risk will only pay off if you know exactly what “rules” you’re breaking, so the ultimate effect doesn’t come off as a total random accident. Readers can spot lazy writing almost instantly.
The only “rule” that ultimately matters to most readers is simple: don’t bore them. And since books take much longer to tell a story than a two-hour movie or a single painting, you will need to work harder to sustain interest.
One way to do that is to remain totally true to the tone of your piece, so that imaginary universe remains consistently tangible, no matter how fantastical it becomes. The reader should always feel totally immersed in the environment of the characters, even if the plot is taking its time unraveling. Just don’t meander as a narrator. Stay focused.
Repeat Business Depends On the Comfort of Familiarity…
True works of art always convey a very specific ambience, especially the visual and sonic mediums, but this can also be true in literature, even if it demands much more descriptive detail and concentration.
No matter how it’s later interpreted by fans and critics alike, if you “transcribe” the fictional world inside your head directly to the page, intact with all its intentional integrity, you’ve succeeded at least on an artistic level. Of course, commercial success is always the goal too, at least for professionals. And as a writer, that means never losing touch with your audience. Even if you can't see them, they can "see" you.
In order to make sure the reader doesn’t feel suddenly disconnected from the world of your story, you need to stay inside that realm yourself as you’re writing.
Your own immediate surroundings may or may not be conducive to this effort, and often the writer is trying to escape the harshness of everyday reality as much as the reader. The common goal is to make sure you’re taking the same journey at the same time. As tour guide, it’s your responsibility to keep your “passengers” engaged at all times, even if you’re resorting to inventive distractions while you’re clearing the path ahead. As long you both wind up at a mutually satisfactory destination, it’s all good.
Listening to music, essentially your own personal “soundtrack,” as you write can also help you maintain a consistent mood.
Always keep in mind that with your words, you’re implanting images and impressions inside your readers’ heads that, if you do your job properly, will wind up seeming like dreams or memories to them. Only these are portable dreams they can return to over and over, like a favorite getaway spot.
And if they enjoy hanging out at this place, they may want to check out others in your literary “resort franchise" for a second date. Because now they know they trust you.