Thursday, October 22, 2009

Writing for Whom You Know, Not What You Know

When you decide to be a writer, you need to choose what to write, what market you’re aiming for and who the readers will be. Within each type of writing lies a myriad of elements to consider and balance. Then your work needs to captivate an industry professional. Is it easier when you know who that person is? Two recent experiences prove the answer is yes and no.

1) Writing for a particular director and performer. I’ve been doing the weekly Missalette (program) and short marketing pieces for The Best Church of God, a parody church service currently at Chicago’s Lakeshore Theater.

An idea for a sermon popped into my head. Having seen the show many times, I was very familiar with the style, format and subjects previously covered. I also knew that since BCOG believes in the literal word of the Bible as set down in the original English, I’d need a good sprinkling of Bible quotes to support my argument. I’d worked with the director for weeks on the program and a couple of other projects, so I had an idea of his likes/dislikes. And I’ve known the performer who’d be doing said sermon for years , and could hear his character in my head as I wrote.

This was both freeing and limiting at the same time. With each sentence I thought was funny, I’d get pulled out of “the zone” of writing by questions like, “Would the director even like the idea? Would he agree that this joke was funny? Would he take a submission from someone involved in the show but not in the ensemble?” “Would Pastor Dave convey the idea with different words?” These thoughts can halt the flow of creativity. Give you writer’s block so it takes longer than it should to complete the project.

On the other hand, if I strayed too far afield, I could reign myself back in, knowing the situation so well. I could refer to past sermons for inspiration.

Fingers crossed, I sent off a draft. The director liked it...and said he could hear Pastor Dave giving the sermon. Whew. He asked for some revisions, and said I also had to write the service opening and benediction. Interesting to see which jokes he kept, which he slashed (one in particular I thought was LOL, sigh), and which he punched up. We’ll soon see if the audience/parishioners appreciate it: why the Bible says moving corpses and desecrating graves (as in the recent Burr Oaks cemetery scandal and Mayor Daley’s wanting to move another cemetery for an O’Hare runway) is the Christian thing to do.

2) Meeting the needs of a particular editor I’d submitted my paranormal with time travel romance to.

After reading the synopsis and first 20 pages, she called to tell me she was very interested in the premise, some things she thought were clever, and the hero. But the heroine was boring as was the world building. And she wanted me to change from alternating 1st person POV to 3rd. If I’d do these things, she’d take another look.

Exciting yet troublesome at the same time. I’d heard her speak, and had had an eight minute appointment with her and now this conversation, and read books from her line, so I had some info to rely on.

I’d purposely written it so the reader would learn along about the paranormal hero as the heroine did, so most comes later. And after all, you have to introduce the characters, their attraction, and the plot, goal motivation and conflict and don’t want to have what’s known as an “information dump.” But the editor wants to be swept away by his world right away. Easier if the story starts in his paranormal environment, harder when it starts in her normal one. I’m trying a couple of approaches...we shall see.

The point is that many auteurs might just want to create and think about potential buyers and markets and where their work will fit in after their opus is finished. They might be offended by blunt criticism of their long labored over creative output, even if it comes from those who can publish them. But I believe the more you know beforehand, the better, despite the constrictions placed on creative freedom.

The time and energy invested in gaining knowledge will pay off.

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