One question that seems to come up again and again in writing forums or books of writing advice is; ‘who are you writing for?’ I guess in most instances they are talking about your ideal reader, as in ‘when you write, who do you wish would read it?’. If that was the intent of the question, I’d say that most of the time I’m imagining myself reading the story as though I had no idea what was going to happen next (don’t tell anyone that I frequently don’t know what’s going to happen next until it’s actually ‘happened’). Choosing someone else as the ideal reader seems presumptuous to me somehow. I guess any reader I got would be ideal.
Anyway, the question also got me thinking about who you are writing for in a more commercial sense. I mean, all the people out there writing short stories that are hard to place or literary novels that have no easy hook are regularly told that their market is shrinking and that they should be thinking more about using their talents elsewhere. But I don’t think it’s that easy. Or that it should be.
Nice work if you can get it, I say. If I thought I’d be good at writing compelling computer games or exciting comics then I’d be doing it. When it comes to crossing genre into ‘growth’ areas for the jobbing writer all I can think is that you need a special kind of talent to be able to write for one genre and skip to another because it’s more popular at the moment.
The writers of comics don’t often start doing it just because they want a quick buck and are trying to be commercial, they do it because the love the immediacy of the form. Just as lit fict writers are enamoured with the style and shape of ‘literary prose’.
This leads me to the depressing idea that, in the commercial sense, I’m probably writing for exactly the same number of people I was in the non-commercial sense. One – and that’s me! 🙂
So today I saw a story saying that a sequel to Catcher in the Rye has been published. What’s this, I thought to myself, Saligner has dragged himself from his self-imposed isolation to rock the literary fiction scene? But turns out no such thing is on the cards. Instead the book has been penned by first time novelist John David California and published by the very small Windupbird Publishing.
Ok, I can just about get with the idea of sequels being written by someone else if the author of the original tale dies unexpectedly – and then only if it’s done with great sensitivity – but to take someone else’s character and transplant then 60 years on? I don’t like it. Maybe the book itself, titled 60 Years Later: Coming Through the Rye, is a work of genius but for me that will never make up for the fact that it’s not California’s creation.
While many of the world’s most popular characters have specific hallmarks or patterns of speech that make them instantly recognisable, to me a character in a novel is a very personal thing – and an absolute understanding of one is not something that can be assumed.
But maybe I’m just being snobby – and maybe it’s something of a genre issue I’m having. After all TV series are written by teams of people normally, as are many films, while comic’s most iconic figures generally pass through the hands of scores of writers – each of whom is welcome to put their own slant on the character. But in the comic industry it’s expected as an integral part of the genre, and one that allows for a very different experience to that of conventional novels and in that respect I can’t get my head around it.
I haven’t read Catcher in the Rye in a long while, but Holden holds a special place in my teenage heart. I honestly don’t want to think of him being strong-armed into growing up – whether he’s been created as a genuine expression of admiration or not.