Tuesday, 30 August 2011

Decoding a novel

It's easy to forget just how remarkable books are; black symbols on white paper or screen create images and concepts in our mind which can make us laugh or weep. The strange process of reading, once it has been acquired in childhood, is forgotten and taken for granted. This is a miracle that enables a truly good book to transport us to another world and consciousness in a totally absorbing way.

A reader reviewing Remix said, "... as I was reading it, it played through like a film in my mind. Very rarely a novel appears like a film to me and it's a sure fire sign that I'm enjoying it."

When I write a scene, I observe it as if it were a film; so the film playing in my mind was transcribed, published, sent to her Kindle, then replayed as a film for her. Interesting to speculate on the differences between our respective films; Caz's workshop imagined by her will not be the same as my image of it, as it's based on places she has never been to - but if I've done my job well it'll be none the worse for that. (I wonder what her Ric Kealey looks like? Drop dead gorgeous, of course...)

Thinking about this, it occurs to me that books are written in code, and only the right reader is able to correctly decode them.  It is a joy for a writer when a reader totally 'gets' her novel, and of course, not everyone will, even with the most popular authors. Myself, I reckon my decoding of Jane Austen or Mary Renault is in the high nineties, percentage-wise, but for Dan Brown, DH Lawrence or Dostoevsky it's down in the low thirties.


  1. I always always say reading and enjoying novels are so subjective. What I like, you may dislike, what you dislike, I may like (erm.. DH Lawrence..!). I totally get Terry Pratchett and could eat him and his novels up and then some but I do know one or two bloggers who totally don't see what I see.

    That's the beauty of art. It's open to interpretation whether it's the artist's original intent or the viewer's own. I'm totally gabbling now so off I go! LOL!

    Take care

  2. True, Kitty - so we should all be wary of saying something is rubbish when perhaps it's just not to our taste.

    I dislike Mozart's music - its terrible tum-te-tum quality has me reaching for the radio's off switch every time. Eine Kleine Nachtmusik is particularly annoying. But I assume there is something lacking in my brain that really musical people have, not that they are all deluded thinking he's a great composer.

  3. Good point. The neuroscience of likes and dislikes is, I would imagine, a complex and remarkable study. Is it hardwiring? chemistry? environment? All of the above? Or could it be as simple as I'm right and you're wrong? No, that would be religion and politics.

    But it is certainly gratifying when a reader reaches out and lets you know that she "got it", that what you had in mind when you were writing is what was ultimately delivered to her in the reading experience. It means you've done your job well and, just as importantly if you hope to make a dollar or two from your efforts, it also means there are people out there who are receptive to this well done job. Doesn't always happen, at least in ones lifetime. The classic example always trotted out being poor ol' Vincent Van Gogh.

    Wonder if the real reason he lopped off a portion of his ear was to avoid listening to Mozart?

    So, what composers do you like? Debussy? Elgar? Bach? Costello?

  4. Alan, I have eclectic musical tastes. In the classical arena, bits of Shostakovich, Dvorak, Vaughan Williams, Rachmaninov - romantic music, I suppose. Not Haydn, he's nearly as bad as Mozart. (Writing this has made me realize I can't spell any composers' names. Had to look up every one.)

    I think the main reward of writing is the readers who 'get' one's writing. Money's good too, but not as good.

  5. Ah, but money is the tangible evidence of the connection. Not to mention it being a spendable bit of evidence. To be paid for doing something one loves, or at least is driven to do, is usually a good thing. In my experience the folks who minimize this relationship between effort and compensation have either already achieved a certain level of financial "recognition" or are doing something else they find equally or almost as rewarding that allows them to pursue the other endeavor unencumbered by the overriding desire to "make a go of it".

  6. Yes. I've never forgiven Shirley Williams for saying she didn't know why people fussed so over money, she never gave it a thought.

    Which, as the daughter of one rich man, married to another rich man, and earning a politician's wages, was entirely understandable.

  7. It appears we're using the same method. When I can't see the scene in front of me, I know it's just not right. I even plot like that. Scenes run in front of my inner eye and when I am moved, I know it's good enough material for a novel.

  8. What did writers do before the invention of films? Imagine plays, I suppose, or just visions...

  9. Never really thought about it. I guess that's the first motion picture was produced, someone thought there must be something more than plays.

  10. Vive la révolution!
    Lady Godiva rides again ..... sans white stallion! LOL

    Actually it seems as though the whole of civilisation is undergoing radical changes, not just publishing. Maybe those Mayans knew something when they predicted the 'End of Time', i.e. a new beginning, in 2012!

    Personally I'm rather addicted to audio books which I usually buy from audible at £7.50 a go. I also have a weakness for romantic fantasy and when perusing possible titles I noticed that Roger Zelazny in his 'Chronicles of Amber' is in fact the narrator for his own novels.

    If you have a clear reading voice Lexy, I would love to listen to you reading Remix or Replica. As author you will have a deep insight into motivation of the characters and there inner thoughts, which could be conveyed through the spoken voice.

    You could also add little anecdotes connected with the story. All helping the reader/listener to decode and 'get it'

    Remembering that you can charge a lot more for audio, you might make a killing if you're quick, before other indies catch on!

  11. Q, I've thought about this, as it's a way of reaching a whole new readership. To DIY an audio book properly you have to get a bit of equipment and invest a lot of time - I haven't got the time right now and just don't know if my voice would do. If money was no object I'd get it done professionally. Lindsay Buroker has produced an audio book and writes about it here: