Monday, May 25, 2015

The Author's Intention

 Image result for dracula images

I am Sheri McInnis. I bid you welcome to my blog.

This is what Count Dracula says to Jonathan Harker upon his arrival at the castle. I am Dracula. I bid you welcome to my house.

In case it's not obvious, I'm re-reading Dracula by Bram Stoker. (His first name was Abraham, by the way. Cool.) I read it for the first time in my early twenties, when I was at Ryerson University. I remember sitting on my mattress-on-the-floor next to the window of a fifteenth-story condo I shared with three other 'Rye High' students: Bettina, from Germany, studying Hospitality. And best friends Kirk and Jeff, both taking Business Admin. The roommate thing was a platonic affair by the way, though I always did enjoy watching the boys wrestle each other every night on our wall-to-wall gray carpeting. Gentlemen have a lot of surplus testosterone at that age. ;)

Anyway, it was curled up on my mattress next to the window, with Bettina sleeping in the darkest corner of the room we shared, that I first read Dracula long into the night. It wasn't an assigned book in one of my English classes. Dracula was a voluntary read. Creepy. Elegant. Sensual. A Victorian page-turner, I'm not sure there's ever been a fictional character who's enthralled the world as much as Dracula.

Reading it again, I'm struck by a few things: Yes, it's as brilliant as I remember. Yes, I am so seriously influenced by it, I should be charged with plagiarism in the book I'm currently working on, The Hunter's Moon – a supernatural horror about a secret society of powerful Witches who've lived among us for thousands of years. The idea came to me in a dream …

But reading Dracula again brought something even more important to mind, something vital to a good book: the author's intention.

The opening of the story is told in diary form by a young man who is traveling by carriage into the Carpathian mountains to see a mysterious count named Dracula. We're not sure why he's going there, only that the closer he gets, the more disturbing the journey gets. The locals cross themselves when they hear who he's going to meet. The night gets darker. The ride rougher. As the outline of Castle Dracula comes into view, chills start working along your skin.

Yet nothing has happened.

It's just a young man in a carriage. How is it possible that a reader could be so totally frightened – at the very least, in a state of heightened suspense – even though nothing has happened yet?

I realized, it's the author's intention.

Stoker could never have known how influential this story would become – he wrote many less popular books – but it's obvious that as the words went down onto paper over a century ago, his mindset was very clear: he wanted to creep readers the hell out. It's apparent in all his word choices. His sentence structure. His descriptions. A candle "quivers." The wine puts a "queer sting on the tongue." The carriage sways "like a boat tossed on a stormy sea." Every sentence Stoker chooses to write informs the reader – even subconsciously – that this is a book intended to put you on edge. 

I realized when I was struck by the vision for The Hunter's Moon, my intention in writing the book was clear: I wanted to scare people. That was good, because the journey of being a writer is fraught with doubts and insecurities. It's hard to get those thoughts out of your mind. So anything that will keep you focused and on the task of writing is helpful.

In this case, your intention as an author. 

Because your intention will help whisk away those doubts when they creep up. And it'll come through in every sentence you write. It doesn't have to be an obvious thing either. Being subtle with an intention is just as effective as being obvious. But – you have to know what your intention is to begin with.

Do you want to make readers laugh? Cry? Fall in love? Do you want to inform them? Arouse them? Scare the hell out of them? Impress them? Maybe it's a combination of things, but knowing what you intend to do with your book will help get the words out more quickly and effectively. Because your main priority is set. This will give you more confidence to weather the inevitable doubts that sail beside you the whole way. And anything that does that is a real gift for a writer.

So before you sit down to write next time, I want you to really think: What is my intention in writing this book? How do I want readers to feel? It'll help guide you every step of the way.