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Author Topic: Inspiration Trials
extrinsic
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Many of you have asked where inspirations come from: dreams, reflective times in the shower, commuting, when distracted or involved and ideas rise unbidden from the subconsious mind. I'm asking what do you do with the inspiration. Do you sketch it out for later? Write it out and run with it? Test whether it's got legs on it. Outline a preliminary structural plan?

If you test the inspiration, do you test whether it might appeal to an ideal audience of one or larger?

I ask because one major shortcoming of my writing is audience appeal. I'm okay with appealing to an ideal audience of one privately. Publicly appealing, I'm off the chart in a painful way. Publicly appealing I believe is how to appeal to a large enough audience to justify publication cost risks.

I was investigating the disparate publishing segments known as literary, mainstream, and commercial literature when I realized their implications for my writing and their potential influences on the cultural and marketplace performance of my works.

Definitions for the sake of clarity helped me understand differences between literary, mainstream, and commercial categories. Literary simply involves a greater degree of literary values than mainstream and commercial, greater degree of meaning depth in particular, like extended subtext, analogy, and symbolism. Mainstream reflects a majority mass-culture comfort zone, like action adventure dramas akin to the Star Wars saga, the Lord of the Rings film saga, the Harry Potter saga movies. the premises tend to be high-concept and easily and broadly accessible. Commercial literature tends to be like mainstream in most regards; however, commercial also forays into sub-, counter-, alternative lifesytle, and anticulture realms, like LGBT and erotic adult literature do, not to emphasize sexual content per se though.

Obviously, appealing to mainstream culture audiences targets potentially large if not the largest audience niches. Commerical targets narrower audience niches. Literary probably targets smaller yet niches.

So I'm asking and have yet to find a satisfactory answer to how do I appeal to a large enough audience to justify publication risks? I'm thinking an answer lies in what problems wanting satisfaction appeal to large audiences that also appeal to me. Like what is the meaning for me of any one or more of my problems and how do I package them so they are entertaining for my ideal audience of one and larger audience niche. I'm narrowing in on existential identity crises as a partial answer. Packaging one is the rub.

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Robert Nowall
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I don't know...usually I have one idea or scene...what kind of people would be involved with such a thing...then I think of what happened before or what will happen after...and once it's all fallen into place including how it will come to an end (sometimes before that, though) I pick a point and start writing from it.

Commercial appeal doesn't enter into it, really.

I've grown kind of iffy on the idea of appealing to commercial trends. I was looking at a list of New Books over at Locus-mag-dot-com this morning, and found, as usual, that a lot of the books are second- or third-in-a-series, all in areas that don't particularly appeal to me as a reader, much less a writer---and book series, unless complete, don't appeal to me at all. (I have a hard enough time reaching novel length, besides.)

I'd just as soon write what I want rather than try to fit something I'm writing into something like that. (I'm well aware that might doom me to commercial obscurity---not to forget failing to blemish my rejection record with sales and money---but I'll take that chance.)

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History
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I agree with Robert, but then I do not need to write to eat nor have the desire to be fabulously famous. Thus, I write what I'm inspired to write. The past two years I struggled to "write for the market" in regard to WOTF and found this unsuccessful and unrewarding.

I even began a mainstream thriller adventrure mystery about terrorists in Yemen before Yemen was in the news, and then the government changed and Yemen became commonly known, and a setting for better authors than I, and I'd need make major changes, so I dropped it.

My only published pieces are "literary," though I include such elements in all my stories, even my genre ones for better or worse.

If your goal is to "appeal to a large enough audience to justify publication risks", I'd suggest you find what is selling big for publishers and write a copy cat: wizards like the two Harrys (Potter and Dresden), vampires or zombies or werevolves, romance with angels, etc.
If you can stomach doing so.

Respectfully,
Dr. Bob

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extrinsic
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Following WoTF and the marketplace in general, I've noted copycat doesn't fly. Ms. K.D. Wentworth famously repeated an admonition against copycatting and retreading worn out motifs, for example. Dragons and zombies and elfs and wizards, oh my. One, accomplished authors who use good old standby motifs manage them admirably, top of the art admirably. Two, worn out motifs are challenging to reinvent, reimagine, re-vision. Better to break new ground for the sake of orginality, vigor, and vitality's sake.

I'm not much into commercial appeal. My principles demand artistic appeal, emotional appeal, meaningful stimulation. I don't fit into a mass-culture box. I'm a wild ranger in shepherd's clothing.

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History
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You asked, I answered.

I agree with Ms Wenthworth, may she rest in pease, but I have found the stories in the WOTF anthologies I've read belie this statement, with rare (and excellent) exceptions.

Similarly, when I look at bookstore, WalMart and Target, large grocery store, and even amazon.com offerings, it seems apparent that publishers are enthusiastic about "copycats".

They publish what is selling.

Thus, if you wish to "appeal to a large enough audience to justify publication risks" you need write what the "large audience" is buying.

While I find what is on the shelves SSDP (if you know what I mean), I can't fault authors who jump on the wagon in order to increase the chance of being published. A foot in the door, as it were.

However, if you're "not much into commercial appeal. My principles demand artistic appeal, emotional appeal, meaningful stimulation. I don't fit into a mass-culture box." Then welcome to the club. [Smile] Write what you love the best you can and perhaps you'll end up being the author others "copycat".

Respectfully,
Dr. Bob
(Ok. Vacation Day 4. Back to work on my next unpublishable different drummer story).

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extrinsic
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There's another avenue I have a glimpse of; that is, looking ahead instead of looking behind or rather looking behind to see ahead. Look both ways before crossing the street, Mommy said. Breakout writers look both ways.

WoTF takes the best they can. Sad that filling the queue means some are retreads. Store bookracks tend to overwhelm with quantity so bored readers have a sense of selection choice. Category novels that swell store shelves are fomulaic purposely, for accessibility's sake. It's like methadone to an addict, basic maintenance. I want to write a crack, meth, smack, acid cocktail that leaves readers desperately wanting more.

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wise
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As a teacher, I know that young people will devour any books that remotely remind them of a beloved read. They want another fantasy that reminds them of Harry Potter or Eragon. They want more futuristic tales that give them the excitement (to them, not me!) of The Hunger Games. Many adults approach reading the same way - what's popular at the office, what the other soccer moms are reading, or what is the latest in a genre (mystery, suspense, romance). I occasionally pick up a mass-appeal book to see what the fuss is about myself. I've read John Grisham and Dan Brown. There's nothing wrong with appealing to the masses. Shakespeare did it, after all.

You need to determine your goals. I hope my novel appeals to a mass audience and I become rich, but I'm writing it because the story has been brewing inside of me for a long time and it demands that I write it. If it gets published and other people respond favorably, then so much the better. But I anticipate others will hate it and call it trite. As long as I can hold my head up around my relatives, I figure that'll get me through.

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babooher
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Extrinsic,not having read your work, I wonder if you'd fit into the New Weird school. I don't know what happened to the Old Weird, but whatever. Reading what you say you want to write, I just imagine the content.

As for using standard motifs, I think it is interesting that others will try to make things fit into those roles. I wrote a few stories for a small mag and the editor wrote the description of my protagonist as a vampire. At first I was pissed because I didn't write a vampire story--the protagonist didn't suck blood. Then I realized how the protagonist could be seen as a take on a vampire. He did extract life from the living, and he did have an affinity for the dark. All I know is, I wrote the story I wanted to write and somebody liked it enough to buy it.

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extrinsic
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New Weird is distinguished from old weird or just Weird Fiction by forays into greater degrees of literary value and stronger emphasis on urban paranormal metaphysics than society-wide supernatural metaphysics. I've written both to somewhat welcome acceptance.

I'm a reading and writing omnivore though, spanning genres, audience age categories, and aesthetic content. The difficulties I'm having center around not fully appreciating and fully involving any given grouping's conventions and traditions and too broad an interest spectrum.

Working on narrowing my focus, establishing my aesthetic, and defining my audience are plaguing me. Topmost of my doubts is whether an inspiration has appealing, seven-league legs on it. I see new monster and demon and villain and nemesis and hero motifs arising in society but developing them so they are audience-accessible motifs has me bogged down.

The bogeyman faded from mid twentieth century folklore, what with Postmodernism's skepticisms and cynicisms questioning and challenging irrational and illogical notions. The candy man, among other social villains, replaced the bogeyman in Western zeitgeists to a degree.

I see underrealized, underlying meanings in such socio-cultural motifs. Developing them into prose dramas rather than sermons or lectures is my present goal. Actually, it's my spiritual-life calling. Foremost among the challenges is developing a central problem wanting satisfaction with both internal life and external world ramifications.

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MAP
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You don't have to be the next Stephen King, JK Rowling, or Stephenie Meyer to have enough commercial appeal to warrent publishing. I guess you do if you want to be fabulously rich and famous. [Smile]

I see myself as a consumer first. I read books. There are books that I enjoy reading, and while the stories that I write aren't copy cats of these books, they do tend to have enough similarities that I think people who enjoy reading the same books as me would like to read mine.

I write the books me as a consumer would buy, and since people out there enjoy the same books that I do, I think that they would buy my book too.

I don't like the idea of chasing the market. I'm sure there are some writers who can pull it off, but I think if you don't love the stories you write, it shows.

Stephenie Meyer, J.R. Tolkien, and J.K. Rowling all had passion for the stories they told, and you can feel that when you read the stories. I think that passion leaking through is part of the reason why they reached such a large audience.

So my advice will always be to write the stories you are passionate about, and you'll find your audience. It may not be a as large of an audience as J.K. Rowling's, but there are a ton of successful authors out there who will never achieve that mass appeal.

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Robert Nowall
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Further thought and some clarification...I might've leapt at jumping on the bandwagon in my younger years, both because I was less calcified in my writing habits than I am now and might have been able to pull it off back then, and because it does seem like an opportunity of sorts.

But, much as History said, I also don't have to write to eat.

I think, all things considered, I'd rather create the Next Big Thing, rather than imitate it when it comes along...

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extrinsic
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I think you-all are projecting assumptions onto my commentary. Commercial success is one success metric, one I don't care to bother too much with, except as a reflection my message has spread far and wide. My interest and goal is transcending the marketplace and the culture.

I'm weary of commercial and mainstream fiction's go-to external world transformation narratives. I'm bored with action-adventure that is little more than veiled author surrogacy. I'm frustrated by literary fiction that poses as art by being inaccessible except by an exclusive and excluding niche. I'm furious with fiction, especially fantasy and science fiction that relives the past from modern perspectives and makes little if any meaningful sense of the social issues on topic. Too much preaching and lecturing out front and not enough development of visionary, mystically transcendent meaning.

Convention-based genre have crossed over into other categories. Why not a synthethis of forms and categories and aesthetics? I ask. Isn't that what Madame Mary Shelley did with Frankenstein; or the Modern Prometheus, H.G. Wells with The Time Machine, Jules Verne with Twenty Thousand Leagues Under the Sea, Marion Zimmer Bradley with Mists of Avalon, George Orwell with Nineteen Eight-Four, and C.J. Cherryh with Cuckoo's Egg? And other culture powerhouses, Kurt Vonnegut's Slaughterhouse-Five, Isaac Asimov's I Robot and Foundation sagas, and many others with partial or full genre and aesthetic merging features. They went where I want to go, only with less narrator voice and more character voice, if not exclusively character voice, and an accessible wealth of artful literary values.

If the opus of literature is a human-existence documentary, and I believe it is, why are the same issues still before us that plagued ancestral humans? H.G. Wells signal dramatic premise in The Time Machine is those who don't know history are destined to repeat it. Only nowadays, we have social plagues of greater magnitude because contentious, self-serving humans have dominated Earth's every acre and niche.

The actual question I'm posing is does culture and thus society evolve or does culture adapt to present-day social reverberations and influences? So far, I see adaptation and resistance to evolutionary transformation prevailing. I see only a glimmer of evolutionary forces at work, particularly centripetal forces that positively enhance a society's social bonds. Predominating and countervailing destructive forces are loose in the world, centrifugal forces that, negatively, rip a society apart.

[ August 02, 2012, 05:16 PM: Message edited by: extrinsic ]

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History
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More power to you, extrinsic.
Your angst reminds me of how Hemingway's biographer described his style of writing: "how to tell nothing but the truth in a way that allowed for telling more than the truth."

Personally, I just wish to write a story that others may like as much as I.

Respectfully,
Dr. Bob

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MartinV
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extrinsic, I agree with you. The world used to be a scarier place. It used to be vast and unknown and in that imagination thrived. Because of that, human civilization has grown and prospered. But now we are water-fat. Now the world is too familiar and human beings have lost that fear and respect the world deserves. We have domesticated ourselves.

Imagination used to drive us out there. Now it's keeping us in because not much exists out there.

Maybe I'm wrong. I hope I'm wrong. That would mean there's hope yet.

PS: I hope people reading this figured out I'm not talking about the world of geography.

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Robert Nowall
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quote:
H.G. Wells signal dramatic premise in The Time Machine is those who don't know history are destined to repeat it.
I always took the theme of The Time Machine to be "if this goes on."
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MattLeo
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I don't know whether I should answer this one, as my writing has been called "literary" (and not with flattering intent), but I'll have a go. What I do with an inspiration is a write a few scenes and see whether they seem promising to me. Then I write a few more until themes start to emerge. But this says nothing about audience appeal. I suspect that "inspiration" may be the wrong framing for that problem.

A better starting point, I think, is asking: what is easy to sell? A few years ago it was Harry Potter clones, and shortly thereafter it was vampires, but this misses the essential point because such fads come and go. We need a more general answer.

What sells easily is something that promises the repetition of some rewarding experience. That's why you buy from a favorite author, or from a familiar imprint. Perhaps you are even are swayed by a cover that reminds you of that of a favorite story.

Is that really such a contemptible motivation, to re-experience something you found rewarding in the past? That doesn't necessarily mean the same story reworked in a superficial way; it can mean the same kind of experience approached from a different direction. This is what people want: they want the same, only different. People who think of catering to that desire as a sentence of mediocrity are taking a stubborn, "glass half-empty" stance.

Imagine walking into a bookstore. Chances are you habitually walk to the same section first, and that defines *some* of the parameters of the experience you are seeking. This is true of even people headed for literary fiction. They're looking for a *literary* experience.

It seems to me, then, that one approach to writing artistically rewarding yet commercially viable fiction would be to pick a genre or sub-genre, figure out the experience readers are seeking, and find an angle to that experience nobody seems to have explored. Then bring your literary knowledge and skills to bear on delivering that experience fully, but opening that experience up in new ways.

As for "inspiration", I think this is just another way of asking "where do you get your ideas?" The answer which I suspect should be given in most cases is "by writing." You can't know for sure where writing will take an idea. You might have no ideas whatsoever about something until you try to write about it. I had no ideas about romance until I tried to write one, and then I found I had a lot of ideas.

Finally, while there have been writers who out of towering narcissism have cynically written down to the masses, I don't think that'd be personally rewarding to most writers. I think it is probably best to have genuine respect and affection for readers. Yes, you're delivering a pre-defined experience, but you can give more than expected. You can also don't have to dumb everything down. You can deliver pleasure to your less gifted readers while giving your more careful readers something to chew on.

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MJNL
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Also having not read your work, but quite a few of your posts, I wonder if it's not so much the idea or subject matter that's failing you (in terms of connecting with a wider audience) so much as your presentation. The prose in your posts is very didactic, and often overly complicated. This largely seems to be because you are packaging complex ideas in complex sentences, rather than weeding out the pith of your point and presenting it in a clear-cut fashion. Is your typical narration at all similar to the way you post? Average readers just arn't going to stick with you, I fear, if the answer is yes. This is not at all to say that the way you communicate is wrong or incomprehensible, just that it requires a bit more work and focus to get through. In order to be commercial your prose needs to be invisible. If you are leaning towards the literary camp, however, you may have more luck.

Does that make sense? Hope this doesn't come across as rude.

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extrinsic
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What a mangled life we lead when we elect to proceed.
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