So from yesterday’s article you might have developed a vague notion of who reads your stories or who might read them in the future. But that leads to an even more fundamental question:
What effects are you trying to create for those readers?
The entire point of writing fiction for those seeking to make a career as a writer is to create an effect upon at least one reader. Your author prospectus needs to convey the central message that your writing can generate an effect upon readers. It is obvious that any writer sets out to have an effect, otherwise not many people would read his or her books — nor would the writer easily be able to continue writing them. Stories that may generate small amounts of emotion may be viewed as a hindrance to others that may generate much more. Focus on the core, the stories that you have written which have received some form of acclaim — even if only from yourself — and your overall prospectus will be that much stronger.
By ‘effect’ we generally mean an emotional effect; a piece of writing which has a purely intellectual effect is more likely to be an essay. But ‘emotional effect’ covers a vast range of nuanced outcomes. Authors of fiction are in the business of bringing about such outcomes, and your prospectus is your attempt to nail down exactly how you do this.
Easy to say. But how exactly does fiction create emotion?
We’re about to enter the heartland of what you’re doing or attempting to do as a writer, so take a deep breath.
There are two basic kinds of emotional effect:
1. Emotions which draw upon emptiness.
2. Emotions which depend upon fulfilment.
The first kind include a whole range of human responses — apathy, despair, grief, terror, pain, anger and so on.
The second kind covers a different set of feelings — contentment, elation, enthusiasm, ecstasy, tranquility and the like.
Emotions underpinned by emptiness are used by almost all authors to one degree or another as it is the vacuum, the emptiness, the ‘hole’ which they evoke which moves attention along and through the text. This is covered in much more detail in my book How Stories Really Work: basically, it’s the principle of vacuum power, the hollowness which sucks readers into stories and draws them through scene by scene to a finale, in various ways.
Emotions brought about through fulfilment are most often the ‘reward moments’ or feelings experienced at the end of tales, when all is settled and the victory achieved. If they occur earlier in the story, they are often stolen away again in order for the fiction’s momentum to continue to the end.
Then you have the Four Basic Genres: in Epic stories (which the vast bulk of stories fall into) negative emotions are standardly used to pull the reader into and along the track of the plot until positive emotions are achieved, as described above; in Tragic tales, while positive emotions may be achieved for some, the protagonist remains unfulfilled and empty; in Ironic fiction, everything and everyone is left empty and gaping; while in Comic stories, exaggerated emptinesses are often suddenly or unexpectedly fulfilled, producing in many cases laughter and ‘warm feelings’ of inclusion or reunion.
As far as our present task of compiling an Author Prospectus is concerned, what you need to do is look over your best pieces of work and see which pattern they broadly follow.
Do they use negative emotions to pull the reader along to a positive end result? Or are things often left dark and unfulfilled, unexplained, haunting? Or do your stories fall somewhere between these?
The key question is ‘What effects are you trying to create?’ You may have simply written fiction without much thought to the effects it was creating, but now your perspective must shift into examining your work, rather than producing it. What sort of emotions are you interested in producing in readers? Do you want to leave them smiling and happy? Or thoughtful and introspective? Would you like people to come away from your fiction elated? Full of laughter? Warm and content? Or would you rather have them chilled, introverted, sad, gloomily contemplative? Or some nuanced mix, or something else?
The effects you create are entirely up to you as a writer, of course. For the purposes of your Author Prospectus, though, you need to delineate as much as possible what they might be.
If you feel that you are struggling to create any sort of effect at all upon readers, then perhaps you want to take a step back and learn more about using the tools of fiction so that you can be assured that you can get some kind of emotional impact through stories. My book was written for that purpose — training authors in the use of the techniques used by master authors throughout history. But you’re probably further along the road than that: you have most likely been successfully creating effects — you probably just haven’t ever sat down and specified what they were.
Spend some time on this step. Go back and forth between your stories, working out how emotions have been evoked and where; take a close look at the final emotional outcome for readers. Make notes about the variations to be found amongst your stories. It’s quite possible that you have produced work capable of leaving readers feeling both elated and depressed, depending on the type of story you were writing.
Sketch this all out.
Decide what you could improve upon; decide, even more centrally, what you would like to do in terms of emotional effects. Perhaps stories have ‘just come to you’ and this approach is foreign to you — nothing wrong with that, but a firmer foundation for a writing career would benefit from a more conscious understanding of what that career is constructed from.
Remember to apply the steps for each broad kind of story you write, as the results may vary considerably.
Then we’ll take a look at where that takes us.