I love the idea of four! Four elements in nature, the four humors of old, four score and seven years ago, my doggie has four legs.When developing a piece of writing, a writer might consider four aspects that come into play, at the onset or eventually.
- Audience – Who is the audience for the material?
- Concept – What is the vision of the piece, its message?
- Form – How is the message of the piece presented? As a poem, in novel form? Furthermore, within the larger categories of form, what specific genre and styles are used?
- Format – If published or presented, what is the packaging? Hard-cover printed book, e-book, online post, etc.
A writer may decide the first aspect to which she relates is concept, asking herself what is the truth she’s seeking and message she’s delivering in creating a piece. For an editor, or from a publisher’s standpoint, the paramount question is, practically, about audience. Who’s going to buy the thing so we can all get paid?
Writing can become an effective team effort as the writer drives the form but then a designer lends creative muscle to conceive a design or layout. Furthermore, certainly in traditional publishing mileaux, the editor along with a sales and marketing team is going to have input regarding who the audience is and how to target that audience; a production person is going to take over at latter stages to help create the published format and manage printing. To me, one role of editing is to nurture the creative effort of the author while working to also keep the four aspects in synch. Whether there’s an editor involved or whether the writer is working solo across the life of the project and performing multiple roles, it’s useful to consider which of the four aspects are driving the project at any given moment.
Is any aspect more or less important than its companions? That could launch a long discussion, but I think it’s valuable for every writer to weigh for themselves and for each project. Audience may not factor into a private diary, yet for that diary there is minimally an audience of one, its author. Toward the other extreme, a writer who has a platform in a non-writing arena may be inspired by an existing audience to create a piece for that well-loved audience.
For the writer, which of the four aspects should be considered first? That question can change depending on the project and the style of the writer. If an author is writing for a series, the form and format are established with book one and the audience may be as well. I tend to think visually, so form frequently influences my concept as much as the other way around.
I like to compare the four aspects of writing to the four elements in nature that seem sometimes to rage against each other yet ultimately cooperate to produce the most viable result. Thoughtfully balancing the influences and roles of each aspect can help a writer make effective decisions about the material, understanding that competing agendas may happen but compromise is possible. After every fire, which cleans up the ground, we can only wish for rain. Eventually the rain comes and the air smells so sweet after.
xo Laurel Leigh
3 responses to “Four of Everything!”
Thanks for your reflections, Jill. To me, one way to look at it is that it takes one person, typically a writer, to create a story and a team to produce the finished book. So while writing initially frequently can be a solitary process, awareness of the other aspects that will come into play during production give the writer more tools to build into their creative process up front. While some writers are uncomfortable with the idea of team work, let alone having their work edited, that same writer may happily seek out mentors and readers en route. I always ask my students why they’re delighted to have a professional mentor write all over their pages and make suggestions yet they flinch at the idea of an editor doing the same. Ultimately the work will be gifted to the readers to make of it as they will.
And I was just thinking about how the organic world of plants is so often odd, literally. Maybe that’s why I tend toward prime numbers, one being the smallest prime number. I’m not sure what the significance of this is in the grand scheme of publishing, but maybe it gets back to the idea of the solitary author, plunking away in a dark alcove somewhere. Very Poe, very romantic. I do like the play of the elements, thinking that those four aspects come in to play whether you have a committee or this solitary shadow. I don’t know, I think I’m rambling this evening. Too little sleep and not enough coffee. I’m gonna hate this post in the morning. :o)
I am sooooo ambivalent about this process. When I do work for hire, I am always considerate of others’ visions. But then it’s much easier to divorce my creative self from a nonfiction policy piece where the work is always produced “by committee.” The difficulty for me arises when my creative vision diverges from another’s on something that is dear to my heart–in other words, my fiction.
The image I take from your piece, Laurel, although it may not have been intended, is something akin to a scorched earth policy. I rage against the marketing machine that has made this standard practice. Did/Do Faulkner, Hemingway, Morrison, Joyce, Woolf, Oates, O’Connor, or LeGuin spend their time producing books by committee?
Or has my interpretation of your post completely missed the mark?