In the last few months I’ve had a fair few chats about the more pragmatic reasons behind why people write, and I’ve found they often involve, well, people. I don’t mean to dismantle the myth of the Burning Urge that *obviously* sits behind the eyes of every storyteller, which I guess is writing for yourself, just that I don’t find myself particularly inspiring. So…who do you write for?
1) For The Person You’re Trying To Impress
My grandad once told me “the best thing you can spend money on is other people”. I think that the best person you can write for is someone who’s not you. This isn’t as stupid or unartistic as it sounds. One of my favourite stories is that the only reason that F. Scott Fitzgerald wrote This Side of Paradise was to impress Zelda Sayre, who had previously broken off their engagement, deeming him unable to support them. The book was an instant hit, he won her back and they began one helluva crazy life together. I think that in all writers sit the twin characteristics of self loathing and a craving to be loved, and because of this writing for yourself will just never be enough. A few can write for a notion of ethereal glory and public adoration, but most like having a solid someone to impress. A (very good) play I saw at the White Bear last night had that idea in there, and I sat there smiling in recognition since I’d done the same for my dissertation play and it (allegedly) remains the best thing I’ve ever written.
2) For An Audience
So you’re told to never do this. I hold my hand up and say that I do. I like to entertain, to manipulate an audience, and I always have a sense of what they’ll be feeling as they watch. There’ll be times when I’ll be going through a script and go “god, they really need a laugh here…” or “I want to hit them at this point.” Seems artificial, some might baulk at it, but I think it helps craft the journey and give it shape. You twist the plot and character motivations to make it work if you’re any good…
3) For No One
When I start writing and have to consider characters, I sometimes like to write to a passes of early scenes that are ‘clean’, that is a version that is uninflected by race and gender. Lots of “A says”, “B says”. By stripping a piece entirely of defining personal characteristics and just hammering down a situation, you get to play out a certain want externally without putting other internal considerations on top of it (a favourite reason for procrastination – “his relationship with a dog in early life means he probably would never throw that puppy off a bridge”). Having said all that…
4) …I also like writing pieces For A Particular Actor and that does sometimes involve drawing upon their physical and cultural characteristics. This is my second favourite type of person to write for after the first. When I get the voice of a character in my head, I can fly through the work. Actually knowing the person who’ll play the part helps that immeasurably. Actors love a great role, I love to writing them great roles – everyone’s happy.
For some thoughts on other reasons for writing, by someone perhaps a little more talented than myself, check out the scribbles of one Eric Blair.