April 3rd, 2006


The writer as part of the story experience

I think the identity of the author is important to the experience of the story. I realized this at lunch today whilst talking to Ken Scholes about a market which reads submissions anonymously. In some sitations that makes sense (Writers of the Future, Nemonymous), but most of the time it's important to me to know something about the writer, even if the only thing I know is "I don't know this writer." But my expectations of, say, Howard Waldrop, are radically different from my expectations of Robert E. Howard or Robert Sawyer. And while I know we all have the workshop rubric about stories standing on their own branded into the flesh of our forearms (well, I do anyway), that's absolutely not true. If it were true, there wouldn't be fans of certain writers.

The identity of the writer lends context to the story. In marketing terms, this is the story's brand, just as much the genre of the story is. What driving experience do you expect from BMW? Kia? Hummer? What reading experience to you expect from Waldrop? Howard? Sawyer? This is explicitly not a value judgment -- rather it's a matter of expectations. Creating, and fulfilling, expectations is part of how careers are made. Knowing when and how to break them is important too, and some people build careers that way, but unless a writer is truly chameleonic (and I can think of a few, myself included at times), there is a voice or flavor to a writer's work that the readers respond to.

We don't write in a vacuum and we don't read in a vacuum.

Bonus question: Do you think that the identity of the author is important to the experience of reading the story? Or am I full of it?