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Love to Hate: Borgia's Characters

Posted by Ali on May 22, 2015 at 6:30 PM Comments comments (0)

I've gotten hooked on a new TV series. Called Borgia, the show follows the Borgia family through the rise of Rodrigo Borgia to the papacy in the late 1400s. The first thing I have to point out is that there's also a TV show called The Borgias. It's a little odd, because both shows focus on the same historical figures, during the same time, and both shows premiered in 2011. But, it's vital that you keep them separate! Borgia is an international production and The Borgias is American made. Also, their tones and subplots (and, sometimes, key character traits) are different. For instance, in the American show, Rodrigo's children start off knowing he's their father. In the European version, they start off believing he's their uncle. Seems minor, but the difference makes for different character development.


Okay, so let's get into character. In Borgia you have a heap of complex characters. No one is completely heroic, and no one is completely unredeemable. I could spend all day talking about Lucrezia, Alessandro, Vanozza, Giulia, and Rodrigo himself. Everyone is incredibly layered and fascinating. For instance, Lucrezia, whose desires are constantly thwarted and corrupted by the manipulations of her father, her brothers, and Rodrigo's mistress. Even when she tries to do what Rodrigo wants, the political scenery shifts and then he decides she's better used somewhere else. Time and again she sees a way to make herself happy with what she's been given, only to see it whisked away again. It's easy to root for her. But, then again, there are times when her dark side shows through. It's never explicitly shown, but we find out that she beat a servant to death and had the body tossed into the river. Even the sweet young woman can be brutal.


For my money, though, the most twisty character of all is Rodrigo's son, Cesare. He starts off in the clergy, finding himself fast-tracked to being a cardinal and torn between wanting to live up to Rodrigo's plans for him, being true to his faith, and wanting so badly to have the things that contradict those. Okay, major spoilers ahead, so skip the next bit if you want to watch the show first.



Originallity: If Possible, Should You Even Care?

Posted by Oliver on January 27, 2015 at 2:55 PM Comments comments (0)

A friend of mine reads avidly; good on to her. She reads only nonfiction; in itself, that isn’t bad. She explains why she only reads nonfiction with this question: aren’t you afraid that what you write will end up looking like what you read? She explains that reading all nonfiction avoids this difficulty.


I see her point. If I read too much of one author or too much in one style I notice myself making choices veering in favor of the intellectual drag caused by such things. I go ellipsis crazy if I read too much Harry Potter…. If I read too many comic books, I get glib, impractical, and overdramatic! When I read Cormac McCarthy I killed everyone—just for the violence (I’m not sure I understood what McCarthy was going for). It’s a legitimate thought, in a way. I haven’t yet solidified what I’d call my “voice” in writing, but I’m getting there, and I would hate to see the confounding of the limited progress I’ve made by the invasion of other whisperings.


My friend, though, didn’t mean by her comment only that she worried about copying styles. She worried about advertently or inadvertently copying story structures and plots and premises. I mean, yeah, I can see the problem with that. You don’t want to spend all your time reading Jane Austen then set out to write a gritty crime noir novel only to realize that quirky young do not make for very good hard-boiled private investigators, and that you should have been writing about murders instead of ladies falling in and out of love with stoical rich gentleman. It is a reasonable point.


That said, I’ve never experienced that it was much of a danger. I said above that I very nearly have an idea about my “voice.” I developed it by self-examination, study, and by mimicry. I always get this story wrong, so I won’t tell it, but look up the method Benjamin Franklin used to teach himself to write. He did it by copying other essays, and he copied a lot of essays. If you read his stuff—and I have—then you discover that he’s a damn good writer, and he’s extremely unique. He sounds like himself and not like anyone else. Sure, he didn’t write fiction. It ought to be very close to the same kind of discipline. If what we’re examining here is the idea that reading things like what you write might have the issue of overwhelming your way of writing, then Benjamin Franklin’s a great example. I intentionally muck about with the writing styles of authors I like. I’ll copy things they say word for word, because some things they say strike me so deeply that I want to understand what happened. It’s an incredible learning tool to get into the head of people who know better how to do what you’re doing than you do. You figure stuff out.


As far as structure goes, I don’t see that it’s possible to avoid accidentally copying the types of stories that other people tell. I study story structure a lot. I have been for most of my life. After my study, I get closer and closer to realizing that…well, formula is good. There are two kinds of “stories” people tell. The first kind is the kind that does, in fact, fit somewhat neatly into one of those basic categories we sometimes hear about—i.e. man vs. man, man vs. society, man vs. self, etc.. The second kind is the kind that doesn’t fit into any of those categories. The second kind is what we call experimental fiction. Maybe someone will discover a new plot type. (Man vs. computer? No, that’s man vs. nature if you think about it. Man vs. progress? That’s man vs. society. Man vs. psychotic alternate self? Maybe—maybe—a mix between man vs. self and man vs. man.) Usually what happens with the second type is that it veers into obtuse blah and either people don’t like it very much, or people don’t remember it very well. No, see, “cliché” structure is inevitable. It is not, however, in any way bad. We don’t read stories because of their original structure. We read them because of their original perspective. I mean to say, it could be argued that Dr. Doolittle and Jurassic Park are the same story—man vs. nature—but we remember them totally differently. It’s not inevitable to have an original perspective, but most people do.


Plus, like, back when I was doing a lot of baking, I’d copy the voice of cookbooks. So, yeah, like you run the risk of copying any voice and structure you read, fiction or no.


Last point: It’s infinitely educational to have an idea what’s out there in the genre you’re writing. If you haven’t got an idea about that, you run an equal risk of inadvertently copying someone else. I often experience an excellent idea then watch someone else make a movie about it.


I don’t feel like it’s a good idea to tell people write and wrong things to read. I am curious, though, if I’m unique in my interest to copy other writers in order to learn. How ‘bout it, then?

A Misunderstanding of Explication: Apologetics vs. Analytics

Posted by Oliver on January 23, 2015 at 10:35 AM Comments comments (0)

Last night I got asked an interesting question: Do you ever explicate your prose or poetry?

Initially, I misunderstood the question, but answered it anyway because I didn’t realize I had misunderstood it. When she explained what she meant, I answered that too. Here’s both answers.

When I misunderstood, I thought my friend meant, “Do you ever explain your writing?” My answer to that was, no, I try not to. She asked why, and I gave a two part answer.

Part one (the main part): I feel like if my writing requires explanation then I did something wrong. If I did something wrong then the writing requires repair, not explanation.

Part two (possibly more important, really): If I propose to take my writing seriously, then the writing I produce deserves my faith and respect. If I put forward a piece of writing and claim it’s in some state of completion, then it deserves autonomy. Once I start explain it I start shifting the importance of the piece of writing. The importance of it ought to be in its relationship with whoever reads it. If I start explaining it, then the relationship shifts to a relationship between myself and the reader, when it ought to stay between the writing and the reader. Explanation from me merits a kind of intervention between the reader and the writing. I become a third wheel in the reader’s experience. I ought to be able to sacrifice whatever ego boost I get from the experience of hearing the reader’s cooing—or booing—and let the writing stand for itself.

I just thought of a third part: Some have said that much of my writing defies explanation. I would never believe the truth of that. When the explanation for a story requires a longer word count than the story itself, though, I hope I can be graceful enough to bow and accede obscurity.

So that’s interesting. It turns out that what my friend meant was: Do you ever use tools of literary analysis on your own writing? Like, while you’re writing and afterward too.

I found this more interesting but also simpler. My immediate answer is yes, I definitely do. That’s all I answered her, because she understood what I meant. I didn’t sleep well last night, though, so I kept thinking about my answer and the implications of it.

I consider myself a craftsman. I have a great respect for tools and a greater respect for the good usage thereof. I love listening to conversation about technique and reading books about technique and seeking interviews with authors I respect to find out about their technique. Technique is gorgeous—tools are gorgeous. Sometimes I think of myself as existing inside this metaphor: all of the thought impressions of the universe constitute an unformed block of cracked marble, I am a (very) fledgling Michelangelo, and I’m obtaining my first set of chisels in the form of Aristotle’s Poetics, Joseph Campbell’s monomyth, and Bugs Bunny’s sense of irony.

Right, thing about that is that it sort of applies to writing technique. There’s a different attitude taken in the approach to literary analysis. Overlap obviously exists between the two; both require consideration of mechanics like plot, tone, grammar, etc. You could never divorce creation entirely from scrutiny. That said, Roger Ebert never made a movie, and people rarely quote Steven Spielberg’s opinions of movies. By a similar token, writing and literary analysis assume very different attitudes toward their subject, and they therefore have quite different tool sets.

I bore all that in mind when I answered my friend with a simple yes to her question about whether I explicate my writing. I often think about my writing as if it’s a book that I’m reading. I’ll make attempts to analyze its flow and tone consistency, and I try to look at it like a literary analyst while I’m writing it. People will ask me what I’m reading, and I’ll sometimes answer with an impetuous, “Well, I’m writing a book right now. It’s really interesting.” Even though I answer impetuously I mean it seriously. I try to treat the books I write exactly like the books that I read.

I can tell you, it gets damned exhausting to apply all the techniques of literary analysis to a story simultaneous to applying as many applicable techniques of story construction as I can remember in any given moment. If my trains of thought were literary trains then they’d be the entire train network of southwestern Europe. It’s tiring, but it’s supposed to be work, for Dickens’ sake. You should be tired after writing. Rejuvenated too, but mostly tired.

And Another Thing...

Posted by Debbie Meldrum on May 3, 2014 at 10:40 PM Comments comments (0)

I learned aboutwriting from my critique group.


5. Listen to all the feedback.


Even if you disagree. Violently.


This can be a hard one--it is for me. But even if you don't agree with the feedback, you should listen. Because something didn't work for that person. It may be a style thing, which you don't want to change. But the thing is, what they may have given as the reason in the critique may not be the real cause of their discontent with your story.


I'm not saying that anyone is lying to you or purposely obfuscating. But sometimes a piece of a story doesn't gel for us, and we can't quite say why. So we might look at the things we can identify: sentence structure, pronouns,adverbs--anything to try and help the author.


So do yourself a favor and try to figure out what really went wrong. Remember that one reader in your group represents a lot more potential readers for your finished work. Do you really want to lose that many people for something that you could have fixed without giving up your personal style?



What I Learned About Writing From . . .

Posted by Debbie Meldrum on April 15, 2014 at 9:35 PM Comments comments (0)

Critique Groups

I have been a member of three different critique groupsover the past 12 or so years. Which, I hear, makes me pretty lucky. Somewriters bounce around a lot more than that. I met all the members of my second,Creek Writers Council, at the first one, Colorado Springs Fiction WritersGroup. Right now I’m working one on one with another person who was a member ofboth of my previous groups. Many lessons were picked up along the way. Here aresome of them.


1. If you have to explain it . . .


I've been on both sides of this one. A reader will say, "I don'tunderstand how George went from standing on a hill in Italy to hanging from a flagpole in Quebec." Once the writer starts explaining that, "Well,you see, he boarded a blimp in Tuscany, then he flew to Madrid where he hopped a train for Calais . . ." Yeah. But if it's not on the page, the reader doesn't know this. And you, as the writer, don't get to sit down with every reader to explain that. At least you hope not.


Jenny calls it "getting it on the page." What I see left off the page most often is setting. Where am I? What's it like there? How's the weather? All things that the writer has in his head when he's writing, but that he needs to show me as the reader.


I'm tried my best to overwrite my submissions. Most of my critique group found it easier to show where to cut than trying to figure out what was left out. I didn't always get there, but it was great exercise


2. Don't assume everyone knows what you do.


Not everyone has the same specialized knowledge. And the terms from that specialized area may not be easy to decode for someone not in the club.


Dancers, musicians, computer programmers, accountants, teachers, doctors, etc.all use terms that people outside of those realms may or may not know. Or it may mean something different to other specialties. A paradiddle in dance sounds like a paradiddle in drumming, but one is executed with the feet and the other with the hands.


This is a hard one, because once you learn something, it can be difficult to remember that you didn't always know it. This is where critique groups from diverse backgrounds are essential.


3. No two people read exactly alike.


Everyone approaches submissions in his own way. Some read straight through the first time, then go back and dissect. Some mark as they go and only read once. And each person has his own focus for critiques.


I've seen puns be a pet peeve for one reader and a delight for another. Some will add a comma to your sentence and others are just as likely to mark one out. I once had a woman tell me that I had a male character describe a room as only a woman would. The scene didn't bother the man in our group at all.


All of this can be really frustrating. But it is good practice for when your work goes out into the wider world. Get used to people misreading your work, your intention.


I'm learning to weed through the feedback so I can determine what to act on and what to leave as is. Notice I didn't say "ignore." I do listen to and read all feedback. I just don't always agree with all of it.


4. It's your work.


That's the biggest lesson from working with critique groups. Your work has to reflect you. Your voice. Your story. Your style.


We shook up how we ran the second critique group, because the original format was no longer working for some of us. It's not that it was wrong, just that we are at a different place in our writing. The strength of the group was tested and held. We discussed the issues and made a change that everyone could work with.

And even though we don't meet as a critique group any more, we're all still friends, which is huge. And we still read each other's work when asked.


I've learned that I need to speak up when something isn't working. Because of Lesson #3. It's my work, and I'm the one who needs to take responsibility for making it the best it can be.

With the help of my friends.



Pop Culture and Ghost Stories

Posted by Oliver on January 11, 2014 at 1:00 AM Comments comments (0)

If my writer friends and acquaintances reflect the opinions of the average writer at all then the average writer wants to write significant works. Significant, of course, has different levels: there are the writers who want to be the next Great Author like Hemingway or Kerouac and write "important" work that'll be taught in college some day. Some people want to be the next Chandler or Lovecraft and leave a memorable and milieu-inspiring impact on the world. Some want to be the next Gaiman or Moore (Alan or Christopher) and make money and have fans while maintaining a certain level of artistic integrity. No one wants to be Higgins, and almost no one wants to be Meyers. If asked why not them, the answer is often, "I'd love making their money, but I wouldn't want to compromise myself like that." While the instinct is commendable, there is a possibility that the context of the statement has not been fully understood.

I shall now invent a protowriter who shall represent all writers in abstract. I shall call him Mr. Slightly, for the name pleases me.

I have asked Mr. Slightly why he wishes to avoid association with teen vampire novels and harlequin romances. The reason he has given me today is this one:

"They're not literature, dude. That stuff's jus' pop culture shit."

Is that so, Mr. Slightly?

"Yeah, man. Too true."

What would you prefer writing instead?

"Important shit, like they used to write. They never used to write pop culture shit."

That is illuminating, Mr. Slightly. Mr. Slightly gave more reasons. He seems to think that pop culture is an unforgivably profit-driven. He also claims to think that the productions of pop culture are shallow reflections of the lowest common denominator that are designed to have a limited temporal appeal; he thinks that expressions of pop culture are inherently so topically specific that their relevence will swiftly die. These opinions have truth in them, but they're unfair to apply across the whole gradient of pop culture products.

I think that it's become unfair to pick on Jane Austen and Shakespeare on the subject of being sell-out commercial successes that did nothing but write inside a specific formula and deliver precisely what their audience wanted. It's true, though; these things can be looked up. I want to pull other ghosts forward to represent pop culture in history.

I'll pick on Charles Dickens.

Charles Dickens and his contemporaries never thought he would be significant. Dickens never sought to be significant. Dickens lived in a period of time when writers thought all significant things had been written. Faced with that paradigm, Dickens decided to do what he knew how to do well: spin a good yarn for a few bucks and bring some thoughtful entertainment to Britain. He did a great job too. As time has revealed, Dickens turned out to have a great faculty for clever and compelling depiction of character. He had an expert command over language, and he elected to utilize that by being as keen a mirror to the world as he could be. Without once pretending to need a grand heritage, Dickens carved himself a happy place in his lifetime by wielding his interest in the socioeconomic circumstances that happened to surround him and his skill with words. It could be argued that Dickens raised his craft higher than mere frivolity, but I'm quite confident that Dickens would have laughed off any suggestion that he would be taught in college in a couple hundred years.

I believe the lesson I would learn from Dickens is this: history chooses its heroes; we rarely choose the heroes of the future, no matter how emphatic we are about our heroes of the present. When they look back on us, we cannot know what college professors will look at with their pompous eye. All we can do is recognize our talents and the circumstances of our lives and do, as Dickens, the best we can with those things. "Pop" culture we tend to view as "low" culture, which is sometimes true, but in general "pop" (popular) culture simply reflects the times. It would behoove an intelligent artist to make an effort to understand his circumstances.

A Most Lethargic Urgency

Posted by Oliver on January 3, 2014 at 10:00 AM Comments comments (1)

Contradictions litter the writing life like lethal animals seem to litter all of Australia: they seem funny till you get close and realize that, if you don't understand them, they could kill you, but once you do understand them you can synthesize their venom into a powerful superpower inducing agent. We write for the masses, but we must do our writing alone. We have to understand our heritage while appeasing the gods of the now and hereafter. We must understand how our craft is art, and at the same time we have to apply technique and finesse to it. When we're doing the writing right, we're thinking and doing at least four or five contradictory things all at the same time.

One contradictory behavior I've been lately pondering has to do with maintaining energy levels while waiting. I've always thought about this non-verbally, but then the following happened, so now I'm writing about it. The following:

Me (on facebook/twitter): Dear people: I just submitted that werewolf story some of you have read to the contest I mentioned. Thanks for your feedback, pretties.

Jamie (the next day in person): Hey, I saw that thing you posted about sending that story to a contest. How'd it go? Did you win?

Me (after a thoughtful pause): Oh...I don't know yet. Thanks for asking. I should hear back from them in, like, four months. I'll tell you what they say.

Jamie: Cool. Well good luck.

The thought I had during that thoughtful pause was this: I take it for granted that I'll be waiting on this contest for several months, but Jamie--not a writer--took it for granted that I'd probably hear back reasonably quickly. It is, therefore, not the usual thing, except for writers, to wait a third of a year to hear back on one contest.

For writers, it really is common to wait that long for EVERYTHING. Writers make a regular practice of beginning something wonderful with all the childish glee due to it, but then resign themselves to (hopefully) cheerful naval-gazing and thumb twiddling for disproportionately long periods of time.

Would it not be charming if, for those periods of time, waiting could be our main engagement? We live in an era of hedonism. Filling idle hours runs the economy of the USA. I am, even now, halfway attentive to Pandora (a band called Enter the Haggis) and to a free online roleplaying game. If I didn't feel like concentrating then I'd probably be watching an episode of the X-Files at the same time. We all know, however, that doing nothing constructive while we wait is near to sacrilege.

I used to work in a cafe, and one of my uncool managers there had a saying: Maintain a simulated sense of urgency at all times. I always thought it was a dumb saying. In spite of disliking the saying and its source in the way most people dislike lukewarm steamed cabbage, I find myself repeating it to myself a remarkable amount of times. It turns out to be precisely the kind of advice the lazy creator in me needs so he can continue working. Years ago I started attempting to simulate a feeling of hurry; whenever I had downtime I got in the habit of reminding myself that my novel needed some attention, or I needed to look up that one grammar rule to make sure I was doing it right, or I needed to organize that stack of feedback so I could look over it soon. I started to do this without thinking about it too much, and now it's gotten to the point that I do it as a subconscious act.

As it would happen, one more thing has recently happened that's given this cycle of thought a fitting geometry. A more experienced and wise friend of mine commented on a different but still contest related facebook/twitter above:

Jan: The rule is... submit it, forget it. If you hear back and it's positive (accepted)... Great. If not, you won't have fretted about it, prior.

In saying that, Jan reminded me that I'd been doing it subconsciously too (partly by practice, partly by being a culivated airhead). It has proved of advantage.

As we all know, if only sometimes say, the process of writing has a significant emotional component. It requires as much exertion as any other discipline, more exertion than many other things. It is possible to become physically exhausted from writing, in general we have observed that writing primarily requires emotional energy. We all build and regain our emotional strength from a variety of places, of course. It would seem that all people receive energy from a sense of success.

To submit a finished work for judgment is a kind of success; we get a rush from that. To receive news of its solution is a kind of success, and we also receive a rush from that. In the interim the necessary challenge is to maintain emotional energy. In between, though, is a long spell of anticipation. If you find anticipation itself energizing all the better. I do, I know, but only when moderated by real life. My observation of real-life people makes it look as if anticipation tends to be too exciting to be a constant state. People lose focus while anticipating.

Our goal as writers is: share the stories. That implies the two step process of a) writing them and b) getting them out there. In turn, that implies a cycle of long droughts of self motivation punctuated by bursts of momentous excitement which hopefully aids in keeping energy over the next set of long droughts. It would seem that the successful author has mastered balancing this contradictory cycle.

Rejection Collection Challenge!

Posted by Jenny Maloney on July 1, 2013 at 7:35 AM Comments comments (1)

All right guys, we're officially six months down in 2013. Halfway there. 

Who has rejections? Lay 'em on me. 

I have, well, I have a lot. Which would be depressing except that there are a lot more personal rejections in the pile this year. A lot more saying "Please try us again." And some of them from some pretty damn awesome magazines. So, that's heartening. 

How's about you?

Non-Fiction Publication: Dog Attack

Posted by Ali on May 30, 2013 at 12:30 PM Comments comments (0)

About a year and a half ago, my dog and I were attacked during a walk. I wrote an article about it and it just went up on xoJane today. They have a format that features personal stories, they call them "It Happened To Me" and I felt like it'd be the perfect format for the story.


I'm excited to have it up, though, sadly, have noticed a few typos I didn't catch before submission. If you're going to click over, I'll warn you - it gets a bit gorey both in the text and in the included pictures.


If you click over, please take a minute to drop a note in the comments section of the article.

Demanding More From Your Reader

Posted by Jenny Maloney on April 22, 2013 at 8:40 AM Comments comments (0)

I like to assign myself projects. For example, this year I've assigned myself the task of reading 100 books. (I'm on #23, just so's ya know.) I often assign myself writing projects too -- a certain amount of words per day for a certain stretch of time. 

I've taken on the additional project this year: watch every single movie that has won an Academy Award for Best Picture. 

By a strange twist of fate, the first two movies I watched were both silent films. First I watched The Artist, one of the most recent winners. Next I watched the very first Oscar winner: Wings, starring America's original Sweetheart, Clara Bow.

These were not the first silent movies I'd seen. In a misplaced sense of gaining some historical-cultural clarity, I exposed myself to the hateful, racist, and anger-inducing Birth of a Nation. (For those of you who may not know, Nation is about how great the KKK is. Filled with white guys acting monkey-ish in blackface, and running around threatening to rape white women. It's really, really, really a despicable film. I didn't like white people for a while after that.)

Considering my inital exposure to the silent can imagine that I was a bit hesitant. My fears were assuaged.

The Artist is really artful and I appreciated the story, and with my current knowledge of silent films, felt like it should. Wings was a truly epic (read: long) foray into WWI dogfights. Both films were ambitious in their own ways -- The Artist for trying to recreate a style that hadn't been seen in almost a century and Wings for sheer scale in the 1920s. 

However, after every single silent film I've watched, I feel exhausted. My brain hurt. Initially I blamed this on the reading between scenes. 

Then I watched the special features section on The Artist. When asked "Why a silent film?" and I got my answer. The director, Michel Hazanvicius, replied that the genre demanded more from its viewer...something that didn't happen in contemporary films. Normally, we head out to the cinema, sit with our bag of popcorn and our overpriced sodas, and watch the big explosions. 

Silent films don't work that way. You have to watch. And not just to read the subtitles, that part is easy. You have to watch the faces, read the body language, and determine what the story is trying to say. That requires more focus from the person watching the action, and it's something we're not used to doing. At least, not in the movies. 

We're used to bringing a sense of attention to books.

But I would also argue that not all books require the same level of attention. There are authors like Mark Danielewski (House of Leaves) and Jonathon Safran Foer (Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close) who demand extraordinary levels of concentration in order to get the full story. Then there are books like the Oprah selects, which demand attention and a certain level of focus -- just not the graduate level of understanding that certain Cormac McCarthy titles command. Then there are bestsellers like Nora Roberts and Janet Evanovich who you can read almost in one sitting while making dinner for your family of four. 

A lot of writing advice sites/books/blogs recommend knowing who your reader is. Normally, the brushstrokes used to define these nebulous readers involves stuff like education level, gender, age, etc. These are demographics that are quick to nail down and pretty useful in general. 

Here are a few other questions to consider in later drafts:

1. Does your novel demand the reader pay attention?

The answer is obviously "Of COURSE!" But we're going to allow that, yes, the reader will be paying attention to your story and your words if they bothered to pick the book up. 

I'm talking about how much effort they have to put in to understand your story. House of Leaves, for example, demands the reader sort through a hundred pages of endnotes in order to solve the mystery. Like tackling a crime scene. That's asking a lot of a mom who is hauling her kids to soccer practice.

2. How much time should the reader invest in your novel?

Time is one of the most precious things any of us has. When a reader picks up a book, they're making a decision to leave their kids, their spouses, their friends, and other possibly pressing obligations. If they pick up your story, does it require them to set aside a day or two? A few hours? A couple months?  What are you trying to give them in exchange for their time?

3. Is the payoff for their attention worthwhile?

Let's say that you've written your magnum opus. You are the next Marcel Proust. Will the payoff of your story -- the beauty of it, the fun of it, the artistic struggle of it -- make the reader go "Damn! That was good."?

This is a very subjective question, but it's an important to keep in mind (for later drafts...if you worry about this during your early efforts you'll give up before you even start). But think about it. After all, we've all picked up a book, read through it to the end, put it down, and gone "Well, that's a couple days I'll never get back." 

You don't want to be that storyteller. Ask yourself whether you, as a reader, would be satisfied with the payoff you're offering. Don't quit until it's as good as you can make it. You're already asking a lot from a stranger.  

As far as the silent films go for 'reader satisfaction' for me:

The Artist: I appreciate the reasons it was made. And I appreciate how well it was made. They filmmakers made a movie to be proud of. I'm not 100% sure that the effort of watching it was worth it to me. I could tell where it was going and it went right where I thought it would. 

Birth of a Nation: This one made me want to break my television. I'm not kidding. I wanted to throw things and kill hateful people. It definitely got an emotional rise out of me...just not the one it intended. 

Wings: This is tough because it's like comparing Charles Dickens to today's authors -- I know that what Dickens accomplished was genius...but I'm just too familiar with the storytelling style. As a kid who cut her teeth on dogfights like those seen in Top Gun, the WWI retelling was just loooooong. But if I were around in 1927, I would've been blown away.