On Writing A Novel: Choosing The Right Effects

I recently got feedback from my short story entitled Little Marky and Mister Turtle. My readers loved it. As I sat there listening to the reactions to my story, a silly grin kept growing on my face, getting bigger by the second. And I’ll tell you why.

It’s because people kept saying the things I wanted to hear. I had a desired effect, and it became realized. I wanted people to question little Marky’s situation. Where is his mother and father? I meant for the reader to question the absence of his parents, considering that he is very young. I conflated Mark with the turtle; and though I thought that it might’ve been over my readers’ heads, at least two people caught the connection. I wanted the reader to want to know more about this little boy, and they were indeed drawn in, they indeed became curious. I wanted to create an odd feeling of loneliness and apartness, and at least one reader felt that way.

It really is quite something to write something with intent, and to have an audience connect with it. Such an experience can surely bolster a young aspiring writer’s ego. But more importantly, it reminded me of why I wanted to write to begin with. I wanted to find an audience who felt the same way that I did, who could really appreciate what I was trying to say or who could really connect with the experience I was trying impart.

There was one reaction the story that I didn’t anticipate. The girl said that she thought it was adorable and cute, and bright like a cartoon. At that point, it was clear to me that the girl was a rather cheerful person, optimistic. She reminded me the importance of letting the reader formulate his or her own experience. I could’ve easily written the story in such a way that forces the reader to certain conclusions, but that would not have gotten nearly as good a reaction. Readers must be free to interpret things as they see fit. If not, you risk forcing the reader into a decision, and nobody likes being forced to do anything.

There were a few criticisms though, one being that they wanted to know more about Mark. The piece is less a short story than it is an excerpt, or a teaser; otherwise, I would’ve written it to be able to stand on its own. Either way, it means that I’m doing a good job of engaging the reader. I’m still not entirely sure how I did it, to be honest. The writing just sort of came out of me naturally. I’m happy to see that I can properly express a child’s innocence because innocence is part of the DNA of my novel. I believe that my readers felt like they wanted to know more, which is good. But is it sustainable for an entire novel?

I’ve scribbled in my Moleskine many notes, and I remember one of them. I remember thinking that I wanted the reader to maintain a distance from Mark. The reason is that I wanted to reinforce the idea that Mark is apart, different, and lonely as a result. I didn’t want the reader to become too intimate with Mark, because he is a lonely young man: you are not supposed to be close to him because if you could be close to him, then he should have found someone to be close to already.

Is it sustainable though? Throughout the novel, we gain glimpses of who Mark is through his interactions with the world. He goes around selling cookies and brownies to business owners, and he teaches his trainees the art of persuasion. But it is hard to nail down who he is because he can, at the drop of a hat, become someone else. He can be whoever he needs to be in the moment. If he needs to be a vulnerable son to a childless father figure, then that’s what he’ll be. If he senses that someone needs a strong leader to take charge, then he becomes one. In the world of sales, Mark can believe in anything he needs to. But what does he truly believe in? We don’t get to see much of that until the second half of the novel.

As a result, we don’t get a very good idea of exactly who Mark is in the beginning. It can be frustrating to some people, I suppose. Even in my short story, people are already demanding more access to young little Marky. Although my intentions are having the desired effect on people, I question whether it is the right effect.

In the first chapter of my novel, Mark is portrayed as a slick fellow who gets the phone number of a very beautiful girl. It is, to the untrained eye, a miracle: he is an average looking fellow. Well-dressed, yes, but still rather unremarkable if one were to replace his finely tailored suit with a T-shirt and jeans.

In this way, I set up the expectation of the reader. If he can easily get a beautiful girl’s phone number, and if he dresses sharply, it stands to reason that he is likely to be a sort of a Casanova, the sort of fellow who goes on many dates and likely beds many women.

Yet, he is intensely lonely. To convey this, the tone of my novel is stark, slightly reflective, and mostly minimalist. I wonder if a reader can sustain it for the length of my novel. I have gathered that a more formal tone increases the reader’s distance with the character. It is something that I designed for. But again, is it the right design? If I wish for people to feel the loneliness, then perhaps I should make the narration less formal and more intimate, as close to the first person as I can get without actually inhabiting Mark’s mind full-time. That way, the reader is made to feel what Mark feels.

Yet another effect could be to simply win the readers over. If I can win the sympathies of the reader, get them to like Mark, then it could be enough. My goal is to expose the pains of loneliness and to have people sympathize with those who cannot connect, to feel their pain. This should happen while I expose the very barest roots of loneliness, its sentiments and its nature.

In any case, The funny thing is that the idea for the story came out of a random rant. I was ranting to someone about how the details are often poorly written into a story. I feel that details should be given to the reader only when they are necessary; and then, only with a proper lens. My rule is that the writer must have a reason for showing the reader a detail. If the detail is not rooted in a character’s experience or senses, even if it is in his or her periphery, it becomes an artifice of the storyteller. And so I went on to say something like, “It doesn’t matter if there’s a rock down the street that was shaped like a frog, or a turtle. It only matters if the kid goes up to it to pet it.” It’s a reminder that inspirations for stories can often seemingly come from nowhere. Yet, it clear did not come from nowhere. It is the writer’s job to plumb the depths of his unconscious, to bring about the symbols that evade his consciousness.