Who are we writing for?
I caught a snippet of a discussion in which I was not really involved, yesterday, about the two souls of fantasy fighting each other.
The crux of the contention was, should writers play for the high-brow, sophisticated readers, or should they be down-and-dirty, catering for the lowest common denominator?
Which is a nice conceptual framework, and I guess an interesting topic for discussion while we wait for the takeaway delivery boy to bring us our Szechwan dumplings and our fried rice. But once the food is on the table, the discussion becomes irrelevant.
This is an important thing to keep in mind – we that write do love talking about our craft. The tricks of the trade, the stumbling blocks and the shortcuts, that time I wrote 8000 words in a single night and the editor loved it… it’s part of our tribal practices, like dancing around the fire and throwing the kids through the jaws of a shark to signify they are now men.
I’m fairly sure the old guys we worship like avataras of good writing did the same.
But when the rubber hit the tarmac, did they really think whether their books will be perceived as highbrow or lowbrow?
Did Fletcher Pratt say to himself “the intellectuals are gonna hate this!” when he set out to write The Well of the Unicorn?
Did Mervyn Peake plan to write something that would leave the hoi polloi behind?
What about Howard, Tanith Lee, Harlan Ellison, Iain Banks… and all the other greats?
I tend to imagine my readers as clever – at least as clever as I think I am.
But this does not mean that I set an entry test for my stories, and I do not care if what I write will be considered high literature or mindless entertainment.
Those are not standards I can control.
I cannot decide who will pick up my work.
What I can control – or at least try to – is the overall quality of the entertainment I am providing, and the mix of clichés and new twists, smart ideas and dumb jokes, well-turned phrases and snappy one-liners.
I can try to make my work as interesting and fun for all comers – trying to take care of what different kinds of readers are looking for.
The two souls of fantasy can fight each other to the end of the line, but there’s very little I can (or care to) do about it.
We take all comers.