October 31, 2013 | Posted in:Writing
Last Friday, I finished editing Artists of Body and Blood and sent it to two trusted beta readers. (Thanks, guys!) What a milestone! I’ve had one very special reader consuming every chapter as I wrote it and giving line-by-line feedback, so this is not the first time people have seen my story, but it still feels very special. My friends are torturing me a bit because they’ve been very quiet overall, saying ominously ‘We’re taking notes.’ 😉 I was saved from my own imagination when my friend Allison finally told me she couldn’t stop reading it.
Could there be better words to hear?
You think you’re done when you visit writing, but you’re not. And I don’t mean that there’s a mountain of work left to do around proofing, printing, publishing, promoting. Of course there is. No, I mean the story might be done, but it is not dead. When someone else is in the midst of reading it, you can feel the potential around them like a magnetic field. My friend Allison was a quarter through, and when I realized what awaited her – the character changes, the tragedies, the excitement and awe – it really hit me that I created something. There’s a world out there that I have mastery over, and it now lives in other people’s hearts. Their experiences of my story are only imperfect mirrors of my own, but they still come back to me like little echoes.
It’s a unique feeling. I have made a lot of art in my life. I have transformed clay into animals, blank paper into people, canvas into snowstorms, and random nuts and bolts into chess sets. For several years, I wrote storylines for a fantasy roleplay community, and people actually participated in my stories in real-time. It still wasn’t quite like having people read my novel. There was no anticipation.
I’ve noticed that most visitors who come to my site read my blog and look at my art. They do not read chapters. My friends and I have observed that it is images that rule the internet because they’re so easily consumed and shared. They are low-investment. Reading takes longer, and perhaps you save that for the sites you trust.
I understand that. I participate in a lot of photo communities because it’s so easy to get exposure and likes. But when someone likes my photos, they’re done. In five seconds, they’ve experienced the totality of that image. Maybe they felt something. Maybe they did not. My drawings, my sculptures, my paintings are the same way. You see, you consume, you move on. Perhaps with a sculpture, people spend a little extra time turning it over in their hand, but that’s it.
A story needs at least several minutes and perhaps several hours to consume. At 675 paperback pages, my novel is at least seven hours of investment. There is no way I can intercept someone mid-enjoyment of my visual art pieces because that experience is so short, but I can certainly do so with a story. I can observe the changes on their face. I can ask them how they feel about a character and get different answers. Time is passing, the world is changing, and, for once, I know the future.
I know the future because I wrote the future.
Is this not the power chased by heroes, gods, and monsters? To know what lies ahead?
There was a time in high school I gave up writing because I realized that I could never control someone else’s visualization of my work. I could write that the sky was twilight blue, but I could never know for sure that they saw it that way or fully understood how beautiful that sky was. If I could not dump the contents of my brain into theirs’, writing was a fool’s errand. My thoughts on this have obviously evolved. I still can’t pour images right into your brain (though I got pretty close with this image of one of my book’s scenes, seen to the left).
But I’ve come to realize that just because I can give you an image doesn’t mean I can give you a feeling. What I wanted when I told you about the sky was to communicate how deep and lush and mysterious I find the world at twilight, when all is blue and on the cusp of darkness. It is a limbo of potential and possibility. The landscape balances between night and day. It was never about the specific color. It was about the color evoking the feeling. It’s imprecise, and it always will be. You can’t control other people, and so you can’t control what they see and feel with certainty.
But that’s alright. Knowing that we’re on roughly the same journey is enough. You read the book; you know the plot; maybe you did not feel everything, but you surely felt something. When I was a young writer, I did not understand how worthwhile this imperfection could be.