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Theory of Satisfaction: Part 2
June 18, 2008

(This part discusses the second and third topics of the six introduced in Part 1. )

Satisfaction is achieved when expectations and needs are met or exceeded. We come to any situation with a set of expectations or needs. Sitting down to a meal we need to satisfy our hunger, we expect the food to taste good. When golfing we might need to hit a short iron to the pin, we expect to make a solid, precise swing landing the ball a few feet from the flag and let the ball trickle toward the hole. When we are in bed with our lover ? okay, I?m sure you get the idea. In writing, for me the needs include certain tasks such as finishing a scene, polishing some sentences, or plotting out a storyline. My grander expectations include creating suspense, developing a strong character, revealing emotion in a subtle yet substantive way, or any of the numerous other aspects of what I consider good fiction. As I write, I?m continuously monitoring how well I?m satisfying those needs and expectations.

The higher plane of writing is where the real action is for me, where I get the most satisfaction. Sure, I get a thrill with a nicely worded sentence, or a daily quota of words met, but not the satisfying rush from a character who is coming to life and telling me her real story. And if it?s going that well, ahh, then that?s a good feeling. There is a kind of physical, visceral pleasure. I?m in the flow, when the conscious and subconscious levels of the brain are in harmony. In this case, I tend to ignore minor details, typos, distractions, and just let it go. If I?m not satisfied, then writing can become a real pain, when it?s dissatisfying nothing is going well. Sometimes I slog through it, sometimes I put it away for the day.

Readers open a book of fiction expecting to be entertained, to be transported into another world, to experience a vicarious thrill. And there are other reasons for reading, to learn something, to have thoughts provoked, to enjoy a writer?s great use of language. But I think the greatest need is to feel satisfied with the experience. Readers choose to read a work of fiction based on several factors: the author, a recommendation, a review, an ad, the cover, the genre. They build up mighty expectations because of those factors, and it?s very disappointing when they aren?t satisfied. But when the expectations are met or exceeded, ooo, how satisfying.

Satisfaction is changeable and temporal. By changeable and temporal, I mean what satisfies us in one context may not satisfy us in another. What satisfies us on Monday may not satisfy us on Tuesday. We don?t need a gourmet three-course spread for every meal to satisfy our hunger. (Well, maybe if I could afford it ?) While writing, I?m usually working in one of the various stages of the process, say polishing. At this stage I?m focusing on the words and phrasing more than the big picture of, say, character development. My satisfaction is high if the polishing is going well. Yet, in an instant, I might have a flash of insight into the character that changes the way he speaks, or changes a pivotal action in the story. Now all those wonderfully polished phrases might have to be changed or even trashed.

On a longer time scale, our development as writers also changes our level of satisfaction. When I was first starting out writing, I lacked a strong grasp of practically every skill necessary to produce good fiction. My sole strengths were a good imagination and boundless energy. (Ah, to have that much energy again.) Back then I was easily satisfied with my work, with getting down 60k words in some order resembling a plot. Of course, publishers weren?t satisfied, but that?s another story. Now that my skills have developed, what satisfies me is also more developed, more mature, though I hope without losing imagination.

From a reader?s point of view, satisfaction also changes from one context to the next. Getting into a good, light thriller on the beach could be just what the doctor ordered to reduce blood pressure. A cold afternoon by the fireplace might require something meatier. And a reader?s levels of satisfaction also develops over time. A reader entranced by an author?s works ten years ago might pick them up now and find them unsatisfying. For instance, I?ve been reading Robert B. Parker?s Spenser detective series from the first book. (I?m a hard-boiled detective fan.) I used to get excited about a new release, buying the hardback. Now I can wait for the paperback. Yes, there?s still a level of satisfaction in reading the familiar plots and characters but now my reading preferences are tuned in other directions.



Number of comments: 3
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Lee Witte
I like these two parts of your Theory a lot. (I'm satisfied with them?) They explain much of the mysterious process of writing and reading. What it says is much of the processes are subconscious?

Jo Reed
I'd like to know more about the "..." in the first paragraph!

That's another topic, Jo. And I agree with Lee, a lot of the writing and reading process is subconscious or just below consciousness.


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