characters, ambitions, and a question

I was going to write about another of my non-guilty pleasures, but some interesting things have come up on some of my favorite blogs. Maybe I’ll do the other post in the middle of the week.

1. There was an interesting connection between Maggie’s post “Anonymity,” and Tiyana’s post, “Consistency.” People are different in different situations and contexts, and writers need to write their characters that way, too. Nobody is the same all the time (thank goodness), but when you’re writing it’s easy to forget that and give your characters an unrealistically narrow range of actions and reactions.

2. Stephen at The Undiscovered Author wrote a post called, “A Writer’s Ambitions.” It was very thorough and thoughtful, talking about different types of ambitions that writers can have (material, output, creative). I don’t really seem to have any of them (as I detailed in my comment to his post), which leads me to a question for any writers who read this.

If you were in some situation where you knew you’d never have any readers other than yourself (desert island, space capsule, last human survivor, etc.), would you write? I guess Output Ambition could still apply, Material Ambition definitely wouldn’t, and what about Creative Ambition? Would it matter if you were breaking new creative ground if you were the only writer left?

So, anyway, that’s the question for this week. [Addendum: or you can answer the less apocalyptic and more reality-based version of the question in the Comments below.]

3. Oh, and T.S. Bazelli over at Ink Stained wrote a post called “Stir Fried Thoughts,” where she talked what it takes to interest agents and publishers these days, and how you have to be able to identify other (successful) novels that your novel is like. So, sort of like a Hollywood pitch meeting (“It’s like Harry Potter meets Twilight!”).

Unfortunately, this would seem to indicate that too much Creative Ambition might not be a good thing these days.

And it also indicates that my assessment (in my comment on Stephen’s blog) of the commercial potential of my stuff is probably right. If somebody asked me what my books are like, what successful books they’re similar to, or even exactly what commercial genre I work in, I’d be a bit stumped.

It probably also relates to my question about whether Henry James or Thomas Pynchon would get a contract if they were starting now.

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12 Responses to characters, ambitions, and a question

  1. sonje says:

    I don’t know if I would continue to write if I knew that NO ONE would ever read anything I wrote. Frankly, I don’t know how much I’d do of anything if I knew I couldn’t share it with another person. We are social animals, after all. For that reason, I don’t think that is a very useful question to think about. I mean, no one is likely to ever be in that situation. I think a relevant question to ask, however, is would you write if you knew that you would NEVER be published?* I’ve written quite a bit with no expectation that anyone besides my partner would read it and perhaps one or two friends. If those were the only people who ever read my stuff, I would definitely still write.

    *One could even make the argument at this point that, with e-publishing and amazon, this point is also irrelevant as anyone can publish themselves.

    • Ten years ago I would have used the question of publishing, but as you say these days that scenario is as unlikely as the other one. Maybe the best question now would be if you’d write if you knew there was never any chance of fame, recognition or income. I would, but I guess that’s obvious. 🙂

  2. sonje says:

    Yes, that’s the perfect way to phrase it: Would you write if you knew there was never any chance of fame, recognition or income? My answer is yes!

  3. tsbazelli says:

    Would I write if no one would ever read it? Yes! In fact I do, and have hundreds of files of writing that I never intend for anyone to ever see. I think I’d go crazy if I didn’t get these ideas out of my head. Would creative ambition matter? Yes. I like challenging myself, and with no audience, there’s no one to see me fail at it. I think it’s freeing.

  4. If I were the last person on earth, would I still write?

    I don’t know. I’d probably have more pressing concerns, most of the time. But still… there’s a need for narrative in life, a need for story. If there wasn’t any other story out there, I’d have to create my own.

    Also, if I were the last person on earth, I’m pretty sure I’d go stark raving mad.

  5. Theresa: I have a few cartons of old writing in my closet. And that’s where they’re going to stay. 🙂
    I think part of my attitude comes from my parents. They were always working on various artistic projects when I was growing up. It just seemed like a normal part of life, no matter what you actually did for a living.
    OTOH, I’m obviously not afraid to fail in public, since I usually post my projects as I work on them. I’m very near posting the beginning of a new story, in fact.

  6. Stephen: I think you’re illustrating why there’s a less apocalyptic version of the question. The original probably shows the influence of the new Resident Evil movie trailer. 🙂

    My name is Alice, and this is my world…

  7. Tiyana says:

    I started off writing a lot of stuff without thinking about whether others would read it some day, so I guess I’d never had reason to consider that question before, heh. Writing was a way to retreat to my own little island of ideas, really. A very solitary thing. This eventually evolved into, “Hmm…I wonder if I could write a novel,” and then, “Hmm…I wonder if other people would want to read this.”

    On Theresa’s point about being able to identify your work with other successful novels…I’d probably just name my original inspiration (conceptually speaking), which came from one author in particular; it was almost inevitable that my work would have some similarities to hers. Stylistically, though, I’m not sure I’d actually name another novel. I’d much rather reference works in other mediums–movies, games, etc.–that share in the same “spirit” than another novel, to be honest, because a lot of my inspiration did not come from other people’s novels but rather works outside of the literary circle. Though, I wonder how acceptable that would be?

  8. I started out pretty much as you did, but it sounds like you moved on to other stages a lot more quickly than I did. 🙂

    As for the “my book is like…” question, that’s a very good point. I wonder how far I’d get if I said, “My single biggest influence is the movies of Robert Altman, plus classic mysteries (1920s to 1960s, mostly), comic books, Dark Shadows, The Prisoner, old-time radio detective shows from before I was born, Samuel R. Delany, and a self-published comic book called Cerebus the Aardvark.”

    I think by the time I finished saying all that, anybody from a major publisher would have already left the room. 🙂

  9. Anthony: Yeah, the less-apocalyptic version makes sense… but the more apocalyptic version struck me as interesting in its own way. Well, what if the world really did go down the Armageddon-crapper, but somehow I survived? Would I write…?

    But on the less apocalyptic front… yes… even if only a few friends and beta readers, or even if effectively nobody read my writing, I’d probably still write it. Because creating story and narrative is part of how I internalize story and narrative. It’s part of my relationship with story – to both consume it and recreate it.

  10. tpaulin says:

    It would only take 1 person wanting to read my work to keep me going, but I have to admit that if it were a very dire situation in the world and I had nobody around and no hope of anyone reading my book, I’d probably put my efforts into other more useful things, such as amassing a supply of food, clean water, and ammunition.

  11. Tamara, you’re being practical again. 🙂

    When I was growing up, post-apocalyptic stories of lone survivors were pretty common. The whole A-bomb thing, you know. Now they mostly seem to include zombies.

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