We’re talking about authenticity here — the ability and practice of doing what you do best and thereby attracting your best readers, the ones who will buy everything you write, love it, and spread the word around about your books.
But there’s another aspect to this which at first glance can appear mystical or magical.
‘Doing what you do best’ can be further refined into ‘Being what you are best’.
The voice and message of your work — the complete package of whatever it is you do that a certain set of readers find particularly effective and attractive — is something that you put together as a writer. One of the joys of this approach to authenticity is that those things that you especially enjoy doing are precisely the things you should be working on more and more, strengthening them and developing them further and further until they shine through your work as a whole — and thus attract even more affinity from readers.
This is all an action, though; it’s something you do.
What you do can be pulled back further into what you are. In other words, actions can lead back into an identity or role or type of being: what you do leads to who you need to be.
A voice needs to be spoken by someone.
This isn’t some kind of vague psychology. There is actually a set of archetypes which can be utilised by an author both inside his or her work, as guides to the identities that the writer can choose to adopt to magnify his or her best work. Select the correct archetype and the role or identity chosen can result in a further explosion of whatever it is that that writer does best. It’s as though the voice finally finds a speaker.
There are seven such archetypes:
1. You can adopt the role of the Rebel, the Defier of Authority, the Passionate Shaker of Fists at Injustice (many modern authors take this position).
2. Or you can become the Tortured Ascetic, the Starving Artist, the Tormented, Vision-Driven Prophet (e.g. Poe, Lovecraft).
3. You can take on the identity of the Swooning Victim, the Overwhelmed Beauty, the One Whose World is Devastated (e.g. Mary Shelley).
4. You can also choose to be the Rational but Emotionally Intelligent and Balanced Author, the Trusted Voice Who Will Tell It How It Is (a very common position).
5. Other writers might choose the role of the Distanced But Experienced Raconteur, who tells tales based on ‘real life adventures’ but from a distance (this is, along with 4., perhaps the role most adopted by authors. Think Hemingway).
6. Or you might be the Comic, the Eternal Jester, removed from the story and always able to give witty insights and different perspectives (e.g. Dickens, Wodehouse).
7. Finally, you might be the Omniscient Author, the Wise Figure full of Broad and Applicable Truths, who oversees a fictional world like a god (e.g. Tolkien, Tolstoy, Shakespeare and many others).
You might recognise yourself amongst these figures; you might recognise the roles taken by certain other authors, knowingly or not; you may see combinations or nuances in the set. But however you react to the above list, these archetypes remain true and prevalent in the world of writing (not to mention the world at large).
How do they help?
As an example, let’s say that an author writes horror stories and is best at conveying a spooky atmosphere which builds into cohesive tales which pack emotional punches at the end. The author might have weaknesses elsewhere — perhaps the structure of the work is flawed, the characters not highly developed, or the dialogue dated. But readers love the emotional power and the gloomy backdrops nonetheless.
Now, in terms of a speaker behind that voice, if the author were to adopt the role of the Overwhelmed Beauty (3) then the landscapes, events, dialogue and characters of his or her work might be enriched, enlivened, coloured even more simply because the voice is now issuing more consistently from its source.
As another example, a writer of romances might assume the position of the Eternal Jester and find all kinds of comic perspectives that were previously lacking in the fiction.
None of this is meant to be prescriptive: authors may find that adopting archetypes like this feels too melodramatic, too inauthentic — the opposite, in effect, to what we have been talking about. But these positions exist — and it may be discovered, in fact, by an individual author, that he or she has already been speaking from such a position almost unconsciously or only partially -- in recognising the role and its ability to empower and magnify that author’s individual voice, things are improved overall when the position is consciously adopted rather than subconsciously slipped into.
Try this exercise: take a short piece of fiction that you have written — either a completed tale or just an extract — and test it out as though it was being read to you through one of the above archetypes. For example, you might have a short detective story — assume the identity of number 1, the Rebel, the Defier of Authority, the Passionate Shaker of Fists at Injustice, and review the story from that perspective. What happens?
Now try the same piece from a different perspective — say, the Tortured Ascetic. What differences do you note?
Detective stories are often told from the viewpoint of the Distanced But Experienced Raconteur — as though they are penned by an ex-detective themselves, occasionally jaded, cynical. By viewpoint in this sense I don’t mean the internal viewpoint of the narrator of the story, though of course that plays a part — I mean the conscious or unconscious assumption of a role by the author as he or she is writing the story. It can be quite enlightening and invigorating to tell the same story from a different point of view — again, not internally in terms of characters, but just shifting the writer’s ‘speaking voice’.
Play around with this. You may find it quite electrifying. You may also recognise, as you toggle between these viewpoints, the one which you yourself most commonly, and perhaps unthinkingly, adopt yourself as you write.
Inhabiting the role that best suits your fiction in a conscious fashion, and communicating consistently through it, can provide your market with powerful aspects of your message and branding—whether you write horror, science fiction, literary work, short stories, novels, historical epics or whatever.
In brief, then, one of the best things you can do to get readers both in numbers and in depth of emotional impact is to make sure your writing and your writing persona is in alignment in the areas you know best.
This builds your credibility, reputation and income like almost nothing else can.
That’s what authenticity -- strengthening and magnifying the real you -- is all about.