Like starting a company, a brand, or a marketing project, the first question you need to ask yourself is: who am I writing for?
Because you’re doing the same thing that they are. You’re asking someone to spend attention with you on something that matters to you.
Asking for the wrong person’s attention is a waste of time.
Not everything is for everyone. Whether you’re writing family friendly stories, or deliberately writing for a like-minded community, we are automatically writing for a segment of people.
This is the most important point for a Catholic author to understand as we progress in our project.
Hamlet is not a good reading choice for a classroom of manic depressives. Young adolescents aren’t ready for the Song of Songs.
For a piece of art to be appreciated, there is a corresponding responsibility in the viewer; they have to be the right viewer. Or they have to understand what they’re reading.
Now, invariably, the wrong people will pick up your book and comment their concern at the presence of ‘un-Catholic’ content. But this is not always a flaw in the fiction. It could be a flaw in the reader.
Not everyone is spiritually disposed to read, understand and appreciate Macbeth. Or the Sistine Chapel. Or St Thomas Aquinas.
In each of these cases, a certain spiritual, moral and personal development is equally required for real appreciation.
It’s the same with art, fine wines, and advanced mathematics.
The same principle applies to writing your novel. You bring a particular point of view, and your story grapples with the view in some particular way.
“There are those who maintain that you can’t demand anything of the reader. They say the reader knows nothing about art, and that if you are going to reach him, you have to be humble enough to descend to his level. This supposes either that the aim of art is to teach, which it is not, or that to create anything which is simply a good-in-itself is a waste of time. Art never responds to the wish to make it democratic; it is not for everybody; it is only for those who are willing to undergo the effort needed to understand it.” Flannery O’Connor ‘Catholic Novelists and Their Readers’
Perhaps the safest way to package how you think about your book going forward is to indicate the type of reader who will best appreciate this book. And then don’t expect your family or friends to automatically understand why you need to tell this tale.
If you are struggling with a truth or an event, and turn to fiction to dramatize it so that you can explore your questions and character progression, recognize that not everyone is struggling with the same questions. This is the crux of the issue.
Not every Catholic out there appreciates fantasy, or science fiction.
Not every film or book will have broad market appeal. Even Marvel knows what stories to tell and not tell. They know their audience, and they tell the humorous, epic and riveting romps that they know folk will pay for.
With this in mind, approach your writing and your promotion of your book to target it to the audience you know will appreciate it.
“The business of protecting souls from dangerous literature belongs properly to the church. All fiction, even when it satisfies the requirements of art, will not turn out to be suitable for everyone’s consumption, and if in some instance, the church sees fit to forbid the faithful to read a work without permission, the author, if he is a Catholic, will be thankful that the church is willing to perform this service for him. It means that he can limit himself to the demands of art.” Flannery O’Connor, ‘The Church & the Fiction Writer’
It could be that where you’re going as an author is too far afield for where the culture is at that time.
Or that you have seen a truth that can’t be said, but has to ne dramatized.
The church – lowercase ‘c’ meaning the local magisterium – may decide their flock isn’t ready for this to be widespread.
Perhaps you’re ahead of your time. Or, perhaps you’re wrong. Or you’ve tackled something true in the wrong way.
That’s where we need a boldness and a humility around our craft. We need to decide what hill we’re prepared to die on, and pick our battles.
Perhaps this is a story that needs to sit and season for a while, and will be ready for a new generation.
Humans have always acted this way, and probably always will. We act out and dramatize/tell stories about ideas we can’t articulate. We circle the truth, getting closer and closer.
Authors might run the rings of the labyrinth a little faster, because we have more active and intuitive inner lives.
The truth will have its day. The question then is our commitment to the truth, or to our need to be seen and heard.
Flannery’s advice frees you to focus on being real, and being honest about your audience.