Posted in How to Write

Anonymity and the Author

So, anonymity and the author? And more importantly, the question as to whether it’s possible to be an anonymous author in the modern age? But firstly, you may ask as an aspiring author why would you want to be anonymous? Why wouldn’t you want your name to be recognized?

            And, yes, that’s fine. If you enjoy the idea of having your name in the limelight—making it special, signing it with pride at the end of your hard-work, then do it. I am speaking today for people in my position; the people who dread the idea of having their name recognizable, the people who feel that pit of sickness in their stomach every time they think of gathering attention for their very personal works, the people who love their works but have little confidence themselves and the people who want to keep an element of privacy in their lives. For whatever reason you’d prefer to be anonymous, in this post I’m going to talk about whether, even if you really want to be, you can actually be anonymous.

            Okay—so, this may be an odd choice but the first (well, I suppose second now) thing I’m going to talk about is an old episode of ‘Arthur’, the children’s cartoon, I remember from when I was younger. In this episode Fern, an aspiring author and Agatha Christie/Mary Shelley lover, seeks advice about writing from a ‘Lemony Snicket’ style character who gives her the advice that the most important thing for her to do is go by a penname (Agatha Shelly is what she chooses) and remain anonymous. She finds this hard because when people criticise her work she can’t argue back with full effect, but that’s not the reason I’ve brought this up.

            In the episode this ‘Lemony Snicket figure’ leads a double life. He appears to remain anonymous because he lives an adventurous life with many enemies to hide from, but this is all something that has escaped from a child’s imagination, surely? Yes, it was written by an adult but is that kind of life practical from an author’s perspective in reality? The answer is—most likely, no.

            The truth is, as taught to me at University, that although you can remain anonymous as an author—if you actually want to sell your books, it’s preferable that you don’t attempt it. You need to go out and sell your book by selling yourself. You need to do readings, talk on Twitter/Facebook/Instagram, go to events, book clubs, book signings and promote everything that you’ve written and everything you’re writing. This is what I was taught at university and is the main thing I dreaded as a professional writer. It was the part that put me off being a professional writer, more than criticisms or the hard work ever could. I still dread it to this day.

            But, sadly, I think that they’re most likely right. A long time ago (okay, not that long ago, but long from the perspective of someone who’s not been around as long) you could promote yourself through your work and a penname, without the need to attend anywhere to sell yourself. The Brontes’, George Eliot, even Jane Austen—they all had pennames at some point in their lives, many of them men’s so of course they couldn’t show up anywhere to promote themselves—according to the world they were all men.

            You may ask then, why could they get away with not selling themselves in the past? I think the answer’s quite simple: money and status. They were all wealthy or related to someone wealthy. Their main readers were wealthy as the middle class either didn’t exist or had just come to exist. There was a limited choice of books, since so few could read (let alone write). In the modern western world and beyond we all at least have some formal education (in most places at least) and as seen from the stories told by the poorer folk in history we’ve always had some capability of imagination. This combined to mean that there is a lot more competition in the modern world and, with authors who have less money, we actually need to sell our work to live.

            However, my friends with a pit-in-your-stomach, don’t lose faith in the power of anonymity. Just think, what do you actually know about me? I share my name, some stories, but for the most part I am anonymous still. I have an obscure penname and the power of the internet at my fingertips. If you need it, use it. You may not be able to do traditional publishing; self-publishing may be a hard push if you have to sell them yourself—but use the internet. Share yourself, anonymously, on story-sharing sites. I have a friend who posts stories on Tumblr, collaborating with other authors who are also on there. Write FanFiciton and post those (you are more likely to find followers with this one too).

            Can you make money doing it this way? Well, that’s still to be seen (she says, attempting to do this herself), but why not give it a shot anyway? Eventually, maybe, we’ll all be able to stand tall and throw ourselves into the limelight but for now, let’s stay a little bit anonymous and find our footing.

I could’ve made a pun about ‘lime’ light– but I have some restraint (sometimes).

Bullet Points:

  • I wanted to be anonymous. You don’t have to be ashamed if you do too, or if you want to be known either.
  • Look up ‘The Power of an Author’s Name’ by Foucault. It states his belief that the author’s name is actually what sells the book, more than the actual books themselves. Think about it—people buy Dickens for the author, not for the titles they don’t know whether they like or not.
  • I was told at university it’s no longer possible to be anonymous.
  • Needing to market in person.
  • Power of the Internet for an anonymous author.
  • Is it an archaic practice? (George Elliot, the Brontes—many females used to use male pennames. Pseudonyms do still exist though).
  • J.K. Rowling kept her name for a different genre, P.L. Travers didn’t.
Posted in How to Write

The Importance of An Omniscient

Yes, I’m quoting younger me now. She was smarter than ‘now’ me, apparently.

‘There’s no ‘i’ in narrator. There’s also no ‘i’ in narrate. There’s technically an ‘i’ in narration, and two in omniscient, but we’ll ignore that for now. What’s important for you to know before we start this story is that this story belongs to you, not to me. Enjoy your time here and welcome to the School of Omniscience.’ – Copyright, ‘School Of Omniscience’, written by a younger me.

            Omniscient narrators: the most powerful tool in a writer’s arsenal. Due to their position of power, their knowledge of everything that happens in the book and their almost god-like presence they have the power to persuade your readers that everything you say is true. Everything they say is a fact. Everything they say is important to the story that they’re telling. Or at least that’s the trust and belief that your readers will give to them. Sometimes, as in the case of ‘The Hobbit’ by Tolkien, the omniscient feels somewhat untrustworthy, helping to add a feeling of un-ease to your reader. Whether you find his attempt successful or not, it’s using your omniscient to its full capabilities.

            It’s obvious how important I think an omniscient is. When I was nineteen/twenty I started writing a novel which would help people in creating their own, quoted above. When asked what I find to be the most important part of writing a novel (during writers groups, retreats or university) I would always answer ‘the narrator’. However, I didn’t ever put characters as a secondary importance as I believe, and I think at this point it’s going to be hard to dissuade me from this, that narrators are a form of character themselves. Even if they’re not a first person POV (point of view, if you’re new to this), they still have some from of personality or views that control how they tell the story.

            So instead of the usual, instead of thinking of an omniscient narrator as merely a god-like being, I want you to imagine them as an Ancient-Greek-God-Like being. What’s the difference? Okay—comparison. A Christian God, which is closer to what people believe when they think God-like being, is barely known. They’re perfect, untouched and a benevolent figure we can’t even try to comprehend. A Greek God? Think Zeus. We know his entire story. We know how many women he raped, how much he was adored as a boy, that his father ate his siblings, that he was raised by a goat. He’s hardly a mysterious figure but the Ancient Greeks still looked at him as a God. This is what you’re omniscient should be. They should be flawed, overjoyed about some things and miserable about others; like Zeus and his favourites (mainly women from everything I’ve read), your omniscient will have favourite characters (just as you’ll probably have yourself); your omniscient will have lived a full life, they’ll be a real person… and that is how you gain a reader’s interest.

Make Your Omniscient More Real.

            So, if this is that important, how do you go about it? Well, take it back to my first blog post. Design a character. Create a personality. Operate with the iceberg theory. Realise their motivations, their favourites. If it happens to tie in with your own, that’s fine, go for it. Nobody’s really going to know any difference, as long as it feels like a real person is telling the story. If you want to bring up politics, then do so. As long as your narrator has a consistent interest in politics, then it’s fine.

            My narrator’s name is Hattie. I know what she wears (tatty brown trousers with an even tattier brown top and a large white sun hat—with a piece of cloth dripping down her back to protect her neck); I know her favourite things in life (family, friends, time travel, her pet); I even know the people around her somewhat intimately (it helps that she’s also a character in one of my stories—but why shouldn’t she be? I know her intimately and with her storyline it makes sense that she could be an omniscient).

            Let your imagination run wild. Create an entire character for yourself, get to know them intimately and when you eventually find your voice you’re on your way to a great book/poem/short story/play.

Bullet Points:

  • Omniscient narrators are characters in their own right.
  • Remember, an omniscient is a god-like being who knows everything that happens.
  • Also remember that you can play with the trustworthiness of an omniscient like you can a character. If you want to put people at unease use your omniscient.
  • Take time to find your narrator voice. Every omniscient is different, opinionated and sits in a certain time period. Think political comments from Dickens, Hugo etc. Jane Austen’s omniscient is sarcastic, seething etc.
  • An Omniscient can get away with a lot more than a first person. They not only see more but can state things as fact, making your reader believe what they’re saying (this is why historical fiction is complicated to write—if you are wrong, uninformed people on the time can be persuaded that it’s correct—don’t spread false information).
  • My Omniscient is Hattie. Just as I would a character I gave her a whole backstory so that I knew her inside and out.

Still struggling? Try using this prompt to better understand omniscient narrators and their roles:

Describe the Voice

Below are quotes from famous novels etc. One at a time, take a quote and make a list of the qualities you think this voice has as a character.

For example, ‘A bear, however hard he tries, grows tubby without exercise’, by A. A. Milne: factual, grown-up but with childish imagination/speaking, funny, a father, slow speaker, fairly musical, relaxed/relaxing, calm.

‘Wherever you fly, you’ll be the best of the best. Wherever you go, you will top all the rest. Except when you don’t. Because, sometimes, you won’t. I’m sorry to say so but, sadly, it’s true that Bang-ups and Hang-ups can happen to you’—Dr. Seuss

‘I like large parties. They’re so intimate. At small parties, there isn’t any privacy’—F. Scott Fitzgerald

‘I took a deep breath and listened to the old brag of my heart: I am, I am, I am’—Sylvia Plath

‘Get busy living or get busy dying’—Stephen King

‘He’s more myself than I am. Whatever our souls are made of, his and mine are the same’—Emily Bronte

‘There are darknesses in life and there are lights, and you are one of the lights, the light of all lights’—Bram Stroker

‘The person, be it gentleman or lady, who has not pleasure in a good novel, must be intolerably stupid’—Jane Austen

Try doing this with other books you read and your own writing. Even a narrator, omniscient or first person, has a character and the more you know your narrator the easier it will be to keep your voice natural and well-defined.