Re-readivists and other WhoDunnits
Help yourself: the novel-planning grid

Anarchy rules

One of the things that you have to learn, as part of learning to write, is what to do about feedback. As I've said in various places, including the post in Resources on the pros and cons of writing courses, it's basically a choice of accepting, adapting, or ignoring what you're told. That's true whether the feedback is about work in progress or work that's published, and it's true regardless of who's giving the feedback, although who that is will affect your choice. In fact, I sometimes think that the most comforting thing to remember, when criticism stings or even winds you completely for a while, is that this piece of work is still your kingdom. You don't have to do anything to it; you are master of your world, and no one else can have a say in running it except with your permission. Actually, you don't have to write at all: no one's holding a gun to your head, are they? 

Of course, there are people who think that you don't exist and your kingdom has no ruler; there are some die-hard Theorists still knocking about in the literary-critical field who think that the author is dead, and plenty more who think that discussing authorial intention in literature is like discussing Vatican doctrine in terms of how the Pope's piles were that day: not just irrelevant but also somewhat Too Much Information, and definitely slightly nauseating. But these people are a miniscule part of your potential readership if they're any part at all: what's really disconcerting is to find that readers, too, regard your kingdom as theirs, at least for the length of their stay. They hear themes which, like the theme of the Engima Variations, are never actually played; they see patterns you never knew you'd made; they tell you he 'shouldn't' have slept with her; they insist that your detective didn't actually go to his rocky, watery grave in the Reichenbach Falls at all.

The thing is, Theory has a point here; what we call a book is actually a collection of paper, with black marks printed on it. Unlike any other art form, the experience of reading a text is largely (not entirely) independent of how that text is transmitted. The difference between Christopher Hogwood's Messiah and Sir Henry Wood's performance of the same work is much greater than the difference between the edition of Bleak House which each of them was reading in the dressing room. In other words, you may or may not care much for good paper or fine design, but the text exists, as an entity independent of its physical manifestation. And independently of you, too. The writer sets down a whole lot of symbols, relying on the reader to decode them into the same story. Which is the real reason for it being so important to know, understand and use the rules on grammar, syntax, spelling, and punctuation; it's not that we're a bunch of pedants, it's because the whole system only works at all if these symbols represent the same meanings, expressions or rhythms, in the same way, for both reader and writer.

But even so it's not guaranteed that the reader will read the story you thought you'd written. You may have created your kingdom, but the only permission anyone needs to enter it, and act and think as they choose once they're in it, is a library ticket or the price of a couple of drinks. If they find a book which has been released into the wild, then they need nothing at all except luck. Given one of these small passports, each reader finds that the kingdom is hers... and his... and theirs... Once it's written your kingdom has at once no ruler, and as many rulers as it has readers; in the true sense of the word, your novel is an anarchy.

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