Tuesday, 26 February 2013

To acknowledge, or not to acknowledge

I had a recent discussion with my writing friend, Andrea, about Acknowledgement pages in a novel and how we feel about them, and this post is primarily to share our thoughts.

As Andrea pointed out to me, the issue is who is the Acknowledgements page for? The people named, so you get a chance to thank them? Or the reader, so you get a chance to let the reader behind the scenes and tell them something of what went into the creation of this novel?

If there are people to thank, you should thank them. It will make them feel good, and the reader can skip over that page – they lose nothing.

If there are people to thank and references to acknowledge, Andrea suggested another way to accomplish this: turn them into a reading experience, something that enhances the narrative and thereby the reader’s relationship with it, such as Forewords, Postscripts, Appendices, Introductions etc. often do.

Furthering this discussion, I’ve gone through any number of novels on my bookshelves to see what published authors do, if there’s a trend, and whether there are any conclusions to be drawn.

This is what I’ve discovered:

That the only thing I can say with certainty is that every book is different.

Cormac McCarthy’s acknowledgements are succinct, and some of his books don’t have any; Chuck Palahniuk’s Fight Club simply has a list of names; Margaret Atwood’s Alias Grace has two and half pages of acknowledgements and another five pages of Afterword. The Handmaid’s Tale, however, has no acknowledgements. J M Coetzee’s Disgrace has no acknowledgements; Peter Temple’s The Broken Shore has no acknowledgements; Tim Winton has acknowledgements which are succinct; the same with Ian McEwan;  Anna Funder in All That I  Am does what Andrea suggests above – turns the acknowledgements into something that enhances the narrative and the reader’s relationship with it.  So far the only book I’ve come across that bucks the trend to be succinct or to have no acknowledgements at all is Gillian Flynn’s Gone Girl. Her acknowledgements start off well, but degenerate into sentimental things about family members. Note to self: acknowledgement pages are not and never will be a platform for telling The Loved One what a spunk he is.

So my general observations are that acknowledgements – if you must have them – should be succinct and restrictive. Say what you have to say in as few words as possible, then exit the scene. Don't waffle. Don't thank the family dog for keeping your feet warm.

In other words, be professional.

Ah, but that was the conclusion you knew I would reach all along, didn’t you?

For a website on tips for writing Acknowledgement pages:  read here.

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