Sunday 16 June 2013

Who do you write for? confessions of a Rock Chick

by Teri Terry

Blue skies at Wembley Stadium last night!
I generally do my best thinking in one of three places: when I'm asleep; in the shower; and at concerts.

My YA novel Slated began from a dream I had: the prologue is pretty much word for word what I wrote down early one morning after a vivid dream, of a girl running, terrified, on a beach. And I often find if I'm stuck or uncertain with writing that if I think about it as I go to sleep...the answer presents itself early in the morning. If that doesn't work? A long shower is often the not-very-green best place for my imagination to work things out.

But it was only recently - ok, last night - that I thought about the music angle. It really should have come me to me sooner. I mean, I resolved to write for young people - made a promise to myself, really - for the very first time at a Mark Knopfler concert at the Royal Albert Hall in 2008.

Hands up if you like Springsteen!
Yet this lightbulb moment waited until last night. I was at Wembley with Bruce Springsteen personally serenading me (and 70,000 other fans), and I was thinking about how he connects with the audience. Most of me was dancing and totally in the moment, but some part of me was making other connections, and writing this blog in my head.

I was comparing two recent concerts: Neil Young at the NEC in Birmingham last week, and the Boss at Wembley. And they were very different experiences.

Neil Young: mid-guitar solo
Neil Young is, like Bruce, an awesome musician, and part of my musical history. But I really got the feeling with Neil Young and Crazy Horse that they were so into their music that the audience was kind of irrelevant. Those rather looooooong guitar solos could have been happening in one of their homes without another soul present, and they'd have been just as happy. Don't get me wrong: it was a great concert. Especially if you rather like guitar solos. But the audience as a whole weren't engaged: we weren't as a group having an experience together with the performers. It was disparate - some people were totally into it; others left early; others hung around but in a non-commital-looking-at-your-watch kind of way.

Springsteen, on the other hand? As far as I could tell he had 70,000 people in the palm of
his hand. And it's not that the music or the message behind it isn't important - it's just that it is all about the communication. The relationship between those on the stage and those in the crowd.

I'm deep into final edits of Shattered right now - book 3 of the Slated trilogy. And while I was having a night off, the analogy between the types of performance and how they relate to my creative endeavours, and writing in general, really struck me.
Do I write for myself, or my audience? Would I rather be Neil, or Bruce?
The funny thing about it is, I think I'm kind of both. When I'm initially writing a story I'm writing for myself. And I won't change the story or what the characters demand to fit an expectation: I won't make a story into a trilogy unless it demands to be one, I won't squeeze in a love triangle that doesn't fit because it is the done thing, I won't take the easy way out with a happy ending if it doesn't fit. 

But it doesn't stay that way. 
When I'm editing, I'm trying to cut my guitar solos. 
It's all about communication: I want my story to get to the audience of readers, I want them to be in the experience and not standing back and observing it. If people love or hate it, that is OK - though I'd rather they loved it. But the worst thing for me as a writer is if they stand back, take it in, and don't care either way. And guitar solos just get in the way. 


  1. "When I'm editing I'm trying to cut out my guitar solos" ... now that's insight!

  2. That's a really interesting way of looking at it. I've never had the pleasure of seeing either of those artists - but I'm guessing Bruce is kind of like Bryan Adams. He comes out and everyone is on their feet and singing right back to him. It's an immersive experience.

    (PS can't wait to get my hands on Shattered.)

    1. oh yes, I'd agree: Bryan Adams is a Canadian Bruce - another of my all time favourite live music experiences.
      And - fingers crossed - Shattered might be out a little sooner than original planned.

  3. I love your analogy. Brilliant! I just ordered Slated from Amazon - can't wait to read it!

  4. Good advice regarding guitar solos. Neil Young, when he reaches out to the listener, is brilliant. I heard "the needle and the damage done" again yesterday - such a sparse, wistful, painful song, a real feeling that he means every word. But, yes, those guitary bits on other songs do go on a bit too long!

  5. I saw Mark Knopfler in the Albert Hall in 2008! I do most of my plotting before I get out of bed in the morning - my husband doesn't quite believe that I'm really working! Oh, and the bath, that's my not very green place for ideas.

    1. Don't think we'd met yet then?
      We were in the front row: it was amazing!

    2. We were in a box - it was the days of corporate entertaining . . .

  6. Gosh, I reckon it was 1991 when I saw Mark Knopfler! Showing my age there. He was amazing.
    Great analogy, Teri. I will try to remember to cut out the guitar solos when I'm editing. (Oh, to be editing! Am at the struggling-through-the-middle-of-the-sixth-version-of-the-first-draft stage.)

  7. Brilliant! Guitar solos are the new 'darlings'!!!!
    Thanks Teri

  8. There is something about Bruce. He has so many lessons to teach us. Here's a blog post I wrote about him a year ago and I'm not anywhere as into music as you are.


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