This is the first in a series of guest posts written by UZ–thank you so much!
I am a “writer”, an unpublished author who makes text for others to read in the full knowledge that, for the most part, no one will ever read it. I do this, ironically, out of love for my fellow beings. When I have shown my writing to an audience the reaction has been mixed, and I am never sure whether this is because people are confused or just ambivalent, as they often have trouble saying which.
In any case, I want to introduce you to a core concept of my writing process, “dishonesty”. This is anaethema to most writers and readers, who call me a monster if I actually tell them what I’m doing, but generally react positively if they don’t recognize it for what it is. I suggest here that every writer should commit to the idea that they are helping people to enjoy something that they wouldn’t if they thought about it too hard.
Dishonesty, for me, is vital to fiction because every work of fiction is a puppet show for its intended audience but no one wants to feel that this is so. The more natural it “feels”, the less of a puppet show it seems to be, even though the story’s construction is still as arbitrary as ever. In this context my job as a writer is to gracefully obscure the contrived aspects of the narrative and make it believable.
Many do this by appealing to their own inner reader and writing what seems appropriate according to that sense, a “natural” writing process. This is how we get stories that “grow” on their own. This is a perfectly good technique, but it’s unpredictable and can make finishing difficult. Another technique is to take feedback from another person, and this also works well, but tends to lead to different results than one will get on their own. Further, any writer who is at all self-centred (that is, *none* of us) may be uncomfortable when someone else suggests that one of their foundational story ideas should be changed.
A third technique, and what I suggest here, is to coldly choose a destination and swear that we are going to get the reader there no matter what. We choose the end of our story like a thesis and we build our story like an argument for that thesis, layering it so heavily that even someone who disagrees with us may need hours of explanation to decide on exactly why they do.
This is normally referred to as an “author tract”, or something less complimentary, but this term is for works written by people who believe in the solid undeniability of their own thesis the way we believe in the beauty of the gardens of imagination that we grow in our spare time. That’s not for us, we are still in narrative, and where their thesis is probably something about principles of political economics, ours can be “Having a monster for a boyfriend would be awesome”, or maybe, “The Moon should have a disco.”
The point of dishonesty is not to follow the thesis, however; the author tract already does that. The point of dishonesty is to make the reader feel like something natural and pleasant is happening to them, when in fact you’re just trying to convince them to agree with you. We do this by displaying our own train of thought as a dramatic journey out of the Cave of Ignorance, through the Forest of Carefully-Metered Drama, until we finally make our way to the Lunar Dance Club of Enlightenment and rock out in the low gravity with our metaphorical big hairy significant others. Or whatever.
So, read on, and I will try to describe how we can put our ideas forward in the most appealing way by admitting that this is not a purely natural process.