Monday, February 13, 2006

Guest blogger Randy Ingermanson

Captain's Log, Stardate 02.13.2006

Today I'm excited to have Randy Ingermanson write a guest blogger post for me!

Without further ado, here's Randy:

Why Do You Write?

Whenever I teach a writing conferences, I ask novelists a simple question: Why do you write fiction?

Fact is, writers write fiction for all kinds of reasons. We want to teach. We want to uplift. We want to comfort. We want to persuade. We want to get a little free therapy by stripping our souls buck naked in public. We want to entertain.

All good and excellent reasons. I probably write for all these reasons. Or maybe I'm just a weirdo who can't shut up. Yeah, that's probably it.

When I ask writers this question, I get back all of the above as answers, and usually a few more.

Then I ask another question: Why do you READ fiction?

The answers this time are a lot fewer in number. "I read to escape." or "I read to have fun." or "I read to be entertained." Those are usually the first responses, and they all amount to pretty much the same thing.

Some of us have other reasons for reading: We read to learn stuff. We read to be uplifted. We read to be comforted. We read to feel superior to that truly sick person who's stripping her soul buck naked in public.

I've never yet met anyone who said that they read fiction in order to be persuaded. There just isn't anybody out there who says, "Boy, I really want to go read some fiction that'll persuade me to change my religion." Or, "Gosh, I really want to change my political party today--guess I'll go find a novel that'll convince me to switch."

Doesn't happen. Nobody on the face of the earth reads fiction to be persuaded. And yet that motive tends to be high on the list of fiction writers. Christian fiction writers are alleged to have this as their main motive or even their only motive. Christian novelists are said to be "preachy." I know, because I read the reviews of Christian fiction in Publishers Weekly, and at least half of them start out like this: "Unlike all other Christian novels, this one here by Joe Christian isn't preachy at all. Nice change! What a relief! This one's actually good! Etc., etc." There's a certain irony in reading this week after week after week which I don't have time to comment on.

I have no doubt that plenty of Christian novels are preachy. I've read those that are and those that aren't. If you're looking for preachy fiction, you'll find it in Christian fiction. But hey, if you want to see the epitome of preachy fiction, check out ATLAS SHRUGGED, by Ayn Rand. The thing is 1000 pages long, and it's essentially one long sermon on why greed is good. What it boils down to is that greedy people get things done. You can say it in a couple sentences and make your point. Ms. Rand takes a kilopage to get the thing said, and the last hundred pages or so is one long MONOLOGUE on the topic of why greed is good. No kidding, a hundred pages of puke-inducing, yawn-inspiring, egg-sucking preachologue. But I digress.

You can agree or disagree with Ms. Rand, and I don't really care which you do. But one thing ya gotta admit: The lady knows how to preach. And preach. And preach. Gack!

People who agree with Ayn Rand about the greed thing tend to believe that ATLAS SHRUGGED is a brilliant piece of literature. Whereas people who don't agree with her tend to chuck the thing in the trash along about page 20, because, let's be honest here, the thing is badly written.

I've got a point here, and it's really simple. You can write for all manner of reasons, good, bad, ugly, beautiful, profound, insipid, whatever. But #1 on your list of reasons for writing had better be this one:

"I write to entertain my reader."

If you aren't writing to entertain your reader, (this is really profound), your reader will not be entertained. Shocking, I know, but it's true. These days, being unentertaining means death by a thousand remainders.

Entertain, entertain, ENTERTAIN!

If you entertain your reader, then they'll happily learn from you, be comforted by you, and be uplifted by you. They'll even put up with waddling through a certain amount of your private therapy sessions, as long as it's FUN. (And it helps to be shocking, if you happen to be good at it.)

But don't be boring. Be dull, be dead.

You can EVEN (and here is the vile truth) write to persuade if you're entertaining enough. It can be done, by those with a light touch.

So be entertaining, at all costs.

Of course, that raises the question of what the heck it means to be entertaining. The short answer is that entertaining fiction creates in the reader a Powerful Emotional Experience. (I was going to trademark this little phrase, which I use in all my teaching, until I realized that it had a very unfortunate three-letter acronym.)

Give your reader a Powerful Emotional Experience, and you will be entertaining as all get out, and you'll get published and get famous and win awards and you'll be on with Letterman and Leno and Oprah and you might even . . . you might EVEN get on Camy's blog. But I make no promises.

And how do you do that Powerful Emotional Experience thing? That's complicated, and I'm out of time. Camy said I had to mention my new course Fiction 101 in this blog, so I'll just say this: Every class I've ever taught is about how to create a Powerful Emotional Experience in your reader. And Fiction 101 pretty much sums up everything I've ever taught.

[Camy here: Well, I had to have him mention Fiction 101 since I'm giving it away, yes?]

But I'll give you the main idea, because I'd be a pretty pathetic excuse for a weasel if I left you hanging here: If you want to give your reader a Powerful Emotional Experience, you need to persuade your reader that she IS the character she's reading about. You've got to zip open the skin of your character and slide your reader inside. You've got to do that as powerfully, as emotionally, and as experientially as you can.

That's it. It's all pretty simple.

Now go do it.

Randy Ingermanson
Publisher, Advanced Fiction Writing E-zine

Camy here:
ROFL! Thanks, Randy! I should have you guest blog more often.

ACFW Genesis contest: If you haven't sent in your entry, tomorrow is the postmark deadline!

Bible in 90 Days: Day 36. I love the psalms. There's so much joy and emotion. It's also full of God's promises. I think it's deliberately positioned after the book of Job, which affirms God's sovereignty, to show God's unfailing love as well.

Writing: I just realized that the Maass Seminar is this coming weekend. I need to get cracking on my manuscript so I have something to bring to it.

Diet: We had fondue last night! Talk about fun. Yummy Gruyere cheese with broccoli, cauliflower and French bread. I ate very little bread because the veggies really filled me up. At the very most, it was an 800 calorie meal, but I think it was less.

And so easy! Bring 4 ounces white wine to a boil in a saucier, drop in 8 ounces cubed or shredded cheese, whisk until melted, then add a mixture of 4 teaspoons cornstarch in a couple tablespoons of wine, to help the fondue thicken and integrate (otherwise the cheese kind of swirls around in the wine). We also whisked in some pepper and nutmeg. I used Chardonnay, but I think next time I'll use a drier wine--the fondue was a little too sweet for my taste.

We set the saucier on a hot plate on the table, microwaved the veggies to cook them, and dug in. My husband and I had a wonderfully romantic dinner, just the two of us talking and enjoying the food.

Today--I went to PT and worked up a sweat, and I hope I'll go walking later today, too. I had a tuna salad sandwich (500) for lunch and chai tea (100).