There are a number of strands that can be woven together here.
We have established in an earlier article that you, the writer, are the holder of wealth, not the reader. Yes, the reader has coins — but you as the writer have what the reader wants, possibly an inexhaustible supply of it, relatively easy to access and deliver, since it really involves very few other people.
This series of articles has clarified to some degree the nature of your wealth: you speak an ancient language, one that pre-dates the existing culture, and which communicates powerfully and evocatively in a unique way. It is the language of fiction, that mode of communication which blends image, concept and sequence together to produce exclusive effects.
So what kind of effect do you want to have?
There are four broad categories:
1. You can reach a wide audience in a relatively ephemeral way.
You do this by finding out what a large number of people superficially want, and then providing that and easy access to it. The internet is flooded with this kind of material, as are our lives.
2. You can reach a smaller audience in a deep way.
This is the province of literary and/or experimental fiction — not many people read it, but it has a profound and lasting effect upon those who do.
3. You can reach small audience in a shallow way.
This is probably where many of you are at at the moment: you write, it gets published, a few people see it and like it, but it leaves no lasting impression and they move on.
4. You reach a wide audience in a deep way.
This is probably the aim of the vast majority of writers. They want lots of people to read their work, and to be affected by it in a profound way. By ‘profound’, I don’t necessarily mean in an obscure or literary way — Star Wars, for example, reached (and reaches) millions and has a powerful effect upon many, but it is definitely a genre work rather than something intellectually profound. I mean that the thing has an impact that lasts.
So many of you will be at 3 and be wanting to move to 4. The big illusion that is pandered in the marketplace is that that movement is simply a matter of 'exposure' — that the number of people who see your work will determine your success. Obviously, there’s some truth in that — a wide audience is by definition ‘lots of people’. But the engine that drives the motion from 3 to 4 is not simply exposure.
We’ve been arguing all along that thematic depth — the presence of more than just a ‘Then this happened…’ type of linear narrative — is what makes a work stand out for readers and more particularly for editors and publishers. However, we’ve also seen that the kind of symbolic or metaphoric depth which this involves isn’t something that you can easily ‘add in’ to a piece of fiction.
An analogy would be with baking a cake: you can bake a basic cake and not win any prizes because it’s rather flat and bland, just like many other cakes. But you can’t make the cake win the prizes by ‘injecting’ better flavours or textures into it once it’s made. It just doesn’t work that way.
So what’s the answer?
The answer is that the qualities which make the cake — or your fiction— stand out are already latent within the thing. By a process of recognition, and then careful magnification, you can start to make better cakes — start to write stories which draw more powerfully and directly upon the potency of the ancient language of fiction.
We’ll look at some examples soon. It’s not easy to find examples in the world of fiction, by the way, because published stories tend to have the qualities that we are talking about already — otherwise they probably wouldn’t have attracted enough attention to get published. What we need is to see something evolve from a basic level to a much better level right in front of us — a practical class, if you like.