All writing is a kind of art. The most popular forms (fantasy, for instance, or horror and vampire novels) are examples of folk art. They are to literature what country music is to classical. (That is, unless you happen to be Bram Stoker!) Indie writers can be rough around the edges, but they are artists nonetheless. If you are an indie, seeing yourself as an artist can help you take yourself – and your work – more seriously. Writers who take themselves seriously become better writers.
Writing about art has always been a popular pastime for artists of every kind, and a few philosophers as well. Younger indies, however, may not yet have seen much of this, so I will put a few choice tidbits on the table.
Tolstoy writes, “The business of art lies in just this, – to make that understood and felt which, in the form of an argument, might be incomprehensible and inaccessible…” For writers, this means the dramatizations of fiction can make clear what real life discussion, or even the carefully worded arguments of non-fiction, cannot. Fiction can arouse our emotions in just the right way to drive the point home.
So, what must fiction writers make clear? Whether you realize it or not, your work embodies a set of values. What you believe in, what you stand for will find its way into your writing in one way or another. Even if you make characters in your novel or story take a position opposite to your own, the way you handle the work will give away your true feelings and authentic values. Readers will “get the message.” At least, they will get a message of some kind. Often, they will like or dislike your work based on how well they liked your message, regardless of how pleased (or displeased) they were with the other aspects of your work. This is true even if they do not know there was a message.
Does this sound strange? Consider this: how well do you like stories where the “hero” is a real jerk who does all kinds of things you find offensive, and then gets away with behaving like that? You probably dislike such stories, for the obvious reason that you do not like the values of the hero or the fact that such bad behaviour went unpunished. You do not like the message the story has sent, the idea that anyone may behave badly and simply walk away. Critics will say the hero is an “unsympathetic” character that readers cannot identify with. They will say the author has made a mistake by choosing to present such a character without showing justice being done.
If your approach to writing is casual, you may not want to bother with all this. You get an idea, bang out your book, and let the chips fall where they may. Self-publishing costs nothing. You win some; you lose some. Your reputation may suffer from the poorer works, but the better ones may save the day. If this works for you, knock yourself out. Many artists work in just this way.
However, as I suggested earlier, writers who take themselves seriously become better writers. Better writers are better artists. For those who are more in earnest about what they are doing, a more conscious approach is in order. Clearly, it would be better to know what your message is, rather than thoughtlessly including one by accident.
To work in this more deliberate manner, all you have to do is decide beforehand the position you want to take on your story. Your characters do not have to be goody-goodies so long as they get what is coming to them. As you write, keep in mind what you want to say with your work. Write a sentence or two laying out your position. Make a sticky post for your desktop, or slap a Post-it on your monitor’s frame. Then settle in to write a story with a message your readers will like. They will forgive a great many shortcomings if they do.