Thursday, April 18, 2013

Thirsting for Complexity

One of the toughest issues I wrestle with as a writer is how simply or complex I want to make something.  Lots depends on the audience - I made things less subtle for Wrongful Death than I did for Salvation Day - but, in general, I give the audience lots of leeway.  I try not to come right out and state the obvious so that the reader can figure things out for himself or herself.  I want them to suddenly piece together that minor point I made in Chapter 3 with the way a scene played out in Chapter 17.

However, I've often wondered if I'm doing the right thing, and I think that's a question many writers have had while composing their latest piece.  We so desperately want people to get our work that there is a massive temptation to just say, "THIS IS WHAT YOU NEED TO FOCUS ON!!!  RIGHT HERE!!!  DON'T MISS IT!!!"

The problem, of course, means that we have to assume our readers are idiots to do that.  No, we don't make that decision consciously, but the end result is still the same - the reader is too stupid to know what I want to say here without my splashing it up in neon lights, so I'll just forego all that foreshadowing and inference bullshit and tell them what they should figure out.

But shouldn't we be treating our readers as adults?  I hate it when the person I'm reading doesn't let me figure stuff out for myself, and even when I miss a subtle plot point, it gives me motivation to go back and find it when I re-read the book a second time.  However, I usually choose authors who already know this about me, and that helps make the reading that much more fun.
(Do we really need to tell folks this is a lion?)
It takes focus to be complex in our writing.  The inclination to not just lead, but to push our reader towards our viewpoint, can be overwhelming.  If you're anything like me, you spend part of your time lamenting just how much you wish people would pull their heads out of their asses and act more intelligent.  But that's when we need to remember that it's not "most folks' we're writing to.  We target our work to certain segments of society, and it's to those hopefully intelligent folks that we need to write towards.

My first two novels, in particular, are rife with this kind of stuff, and looking back, they wouldn't be as strong as they are if I left out the allusions and inferences.  Salvation Day depends on people extrapolating the horrors of Hell, as well as what becomes of someone who seems like a minor character, to create the tension necessary to pull it off.  Akeldama is an action novel combined with a whodunit, so not giving the reader some credit to work things out for himself or herself would completely destroy the novel.

To me, it's similar to sitting with my wife and watching a movie I've seen, and not shouting out for her to pay attention to a particular scene.  Yes, I've done that, and it drives her crazy, usually followed by her saying, "Let me watch the damn movie and figure it out for myself."  If I'm going to have anything approaching a successful career in the target demographic I'd like, I've got to remember this in my writing as well.

It's just so darn hard sometimes...

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