My Guest this week tackles a thorny subject all writers face: analysis of your own work! Welcome to the Dark Side! Ladies and Gentlemen...
The Word According
to Jekyll and Hyde
When you’re faced with the daunting task of considering the quality of your own work, how can you possibly rise above the terrors of the subjective judgement? I mean, whose opinion really matters the most in this dank and murky world of writing? Once I might have said that my own opinion was truly the only one that really mattered, but come on, self-confidence doesn’t guarantee quality and is so regularly associated with self-deception that it’s hardly a reliable source of judgement. In fact, some of the grandest statements of self-promotion are often uttered by the more impoverished examples of the archetypical starving author.
Then there’s the high level of unqualified opinion found in the vast majority of the general public to consider; people who don’t always seem that sympathetic when it comes to the sweat of your labours or the brilliance of your work. You can add to this, the positive views and obvious genius of your fan base, and even the potentially career crushing opinions delivered by your agent. That’s a lot of subjective judgement already, yet there’s still the views of the learned intellectuals, critics and literary assassins that seem to have the right to tear you to pieces that we also need to include in the mix.
These views are often the educated, self-interested kind, or the type that are determined out of personal perceptions without the need to ever qualify these in any way. Haven’t we all been at that party or gathering, discussing the latest hit movie, when a particularly unlearned person states that the lead in the show ‘just can’t act’, even though that actor may have won many awards and carried many a multi-million dollar production through years of wonderful performances.
I find it strange that outside of the literary world, there are so many people in the above group, both educated or otherwise that often believe they would have no trouble writing a novel, usually an autobiography. These same folk nearly always regard the business of literature, including the writing of said novel, to be easy. This seems to be a general consensus. Just put pen to paper and the incredible story of a life in the suburbs becomes a hit, without any need for further education. Maybe I can give up writing and develop manned spacecraft that can be sent to another galaxy; all out of the spare parts in my shed.
The act of writing must be easy; all an intended author needs to consider at any one moment throughout the writing process is little things, like, whether or not they’ve developed a unique protagonist and a likewise list of spectacular characters, who act and perform precisely out of the writer’s development of their core beliefs and colourful attitudes. Also there’s character growth born out of the conflicts you must create and the rising tensions that lead the reader on, enthralled to that knock’em-down climax. Then of course, there’s the sentence construction that just happens to determine the sound and style, and of course there’s the clever comparisons, as well as the correct word usage, the poignancy and subtlety that tweaks the emotions, the creation of perfectly balanced pacing and progression, the maintaining of focus, the experience of showing consequence and deeply felt ramifications through the actions of the characters, the adherence to genre, the perfect viewpoint and type of narrator, the tone, the development of breath taking settings, the creation of believability through the suspension of un-believability, the unique voice for your unique characters, the thrilling chapter hooks, the relevance in every word and sentence and paragraph of your story, the handling of backfill, the brilliant dialogue, the balance, the overall structure, the informative and colourful prose … all the while avoiding the ordinary, the commonplace and the cliché, whilst judging and determining the complexity of your story to fit with the needs of your intended readership … and so much more.
Seriously easy hey? Yet such uniformed assumptions and even your own learnedness, may not be enough of a valuable guide to determine the quality of your hard work.
What then, if you have none of the wanted opinions we’ve covered and still achieve record book sales, or win major literary awards? Surely one of these achievements is enough to stamp ‘good’ on your work? Yet, these inquiries almost always manifests another all-encompassing question. Do sales figures and awards, or any of the above opinions, definitively qualify your creations?
Just about every writer in the universe has suffered the dualistic confusion found in the Jekyll and Hyde of opinion. After all, massive books sales don’t always guarantee positive critiques. Likewise, winning major literary awards provides no assurances of book sales.
If we’re honest with ourselves, we’ve all suffered some anger, or jealousy over the sub-standard publications that seem to magically ‘hit the target’ or ‘find that niche’ and sell a ridiculous amount of books right across the globe, despite their lack of technical accomplishment. Everybody tells you its absolute rubbish and not worth a read, yet even your grandmother bought a copy.
Perhaps the answer to each of the questions we’ve asked is the same one. Art and storytelling are as old as man and even back then sitting by the fire in our caves, each artist and story teller pursued their gifts for their own reasons, expectations and aspirations. And, maybe that’s just how it is, quite apart from the rules of technical application and evaluation, the quality of your work may always have to live within the Jekyll and Hyde of the subjective, because we are all different and lucky enough in most cases to be able to voice our opinion, no matter its validity.
A Warning from the Author:
(written by Ken)
As an author, Ken Grace can only be described as a God-like figure, born with the physical attributes gifted to such a deity. His amazing characteristics could be accredited thusly:
He is sensationally short, brilliantly bald … lucky in that his hair has migrated from his head to other areas of his person such as his back and massive buttocks. He is also fabulously flabby, ridiculously rude, verbally incontinent and weird in that he stares at you in a creepy and superior way for no earthly apparent reason.
There is also his disdain of cleanliness, his ability to produce wind in the most inappropriate of circumstances and his knack of seeing the negative in every situation, to take into account.
Also, his vision is impaired, his hearing is almost non-existent, the air around him smells like sewerage and he can only taste sausage that has been left in the sun for several weeks. Yet, it’s his sense of touch that is possibly the most interesting, in that he has to hug everything he comes in contact with, from lamp posts to people, with the experience of his touch feeling something akin to sharp ice, only sticky, wet and greasy.
All in all, he has often been described as the perfect form with an intellect that is so special that it has so far never been detected.
When Ken's not writing amusing Biographical material or sizzling SciFi novels, he can be found here:
Thanks, Ken, for revealing what to many readers is probably something they have never considered before: the writer's need to have feedback on their work. With this in mind, I entreat ALL READERS always to write reviews of the novels they finish - for those of us who sweat blood and tears during hundreds of long hours to bring you this timeless form of entertainment, it's our lifeblood!
Eric @ www.ericjgates.com