Hugh Howey posted a blog today titled "The Greatest Threat" which echoes some of what I've been thinking. I don't generally post much political stuff here, but I really don't think this is political. It's just common-sense. Give it a read, if you believe (or if you don't believe) that income inequality in our country is a serious problem.
Chuck Wendig wrote a blog article called "100 Random Storytelling Thoughts and Tips" in which he lists...you guessed it...one hundred thoughts on how to write a good story, or make the story you are writing better. One struck me as I read it, not because it had anything to do with writing. Here it is:
35. There’s always something else for the reader to be doing. You are not competing against other writers or other books, but you are competing against the infinity of options open to your audience: games, toys, social media, sex, sex toys, sex games, corn murder, bee wrangling, monkey punching, gambling, sex gambling, exotic drugs created from household cleaners, falcon training, sex falcon training. Treat your reader as exalted. They have given you money and time. Do not punish them for their choice.Yeah, Chuck's writing style in his blog is a little...silly at times. Remember, this is written for his audience. Not mine, or not just anyone. But his point seems to be one we forget often. Other books are not our competition. Choices for entertainment other than reading books ARE our competition. All of our competition. If you write, you are in competition with all the things Chuck listed. (Okay, probably not those things. But certainly we're in competition with Netflix, with Wii and X-box and PS4, with computer games and websites, with someone's smartphone or iPad, or any number of other things.) The point is that reading good books is something we writers all want to do (or we wouldn't be writing) and something we writers want all of our readers doing. If today that good book is by me, great! Better than great! But if today you're reading something by another writer of horror, or mystery or SF/Fantasy or thrillers, and it's a good story, that's great too! (Just not as great as if you were reading that good book by ME!) When I read a good book, it triggers something in me...I usually want to read MORE good books, MORE good stories, of the sort I just read, maybe, but maybe something else...the important point, and the relevant point, is that it is a good story and I want MORE! So I'm thrilled to tell someone about a great book I've read, an interesting and/or thought-provoking story, an inspirational tale. I find those often in SF stories, in thrillers, and even in horror, which I believe focuses so much on the characters and the settings, which are two things I love to see come alive. No, as a writer, I'm not in competition with other writers. We all have the same self-interested goal of promoting reading in others, and so much the better if it is in readers who love the kinds of stories that we tell. Why did this hit home with me? Because I've been sitting at home reading Flashback by Dan Simmons, and my kids are on YouTube watching videos about games that they play. Meanwhile there are good books just laying there that I thought they wanted to read. But they aren't. I'd prefer they read, but they're old enough to take my strong suggestion that they read instead of watching (and my criticism of the stupidity of watching videos about video games) and chuck it out the window. They work very hard during their school year (dare I say harder than I work at my job?) and right now they're both working hard, with long days, in band camps. So they can ultimately do what they want with their limited leisure time, at least to a degree. But it doesn't stop me from being dismayed. Orson Scott Card, David Price, and and dozens, no, hundreds, of authors are in competition with YouTube for their leisure time. They're not in competition with me as an indie author, or with each other as traditional published authors. We all need to do what we can to promote reading, and we shouldn't worry about whether we're in competition with each other. Because we're not. No way. *****
I like watching movies. And I tend to like adventure movies, you know the type. The big budget thrillers and sf/fantasy spectacles. I enjoy the "smaller" movies, the ones that study characters, that use the sense of place as a major part of the story, the ones that explore relationships. But on the big screen, and often on the little screen, the movies I'll pay to watch and maybe even buy tend to be thrillers and sf/fantasy. LORD OF THE RINGS, ENDERS GAME, THE HUNGER GAMES and CATCHING FIRE, and the HARRY POTTER movies are just a few examples of movies I've seen and enjoyed in the last several years. Over the weekend I was watching the first lecture of one of "The Great Courses", this one on analysis and critique while reading and writing, and how it can make "me" a more effective reader AND writer. This first lecture sets the agenda for the 24 lecture series, and in it the professor talked a great deal about tone and about word choice. She gave some examples of "good" writing versus "bad" writing versus "okay" writing. "Okay" writing seemed to be technically solid but artistically bland. I thought about that as I read the passages she presented in the lecture, and I agreed with her fully that her examples of "good" writing were far more artistic. It was like looking at a photo of a weedy pond, then looking at Monet's Water Lilies paintings. Both showed sort of the same thing, but there was a richness to Monet's work that certainly isn't found in a simple photograph by an "untalented" photographer. Then I thought about watching movies, specifically, the movies I like to watch. To me, reading a lot of genre fiction, which is concerned primarily with telling a story, conveying the action that occurs to resolve the conflict, is a lot like watching some of these big budget movies. They aren't out to explore the relationships between characters to any great depth, certainly no deeper than needed for the story. They aren't concerned so much with exploring the issues that rise up in the story beyond what is needed to serve the story. Or maybe they are. Maybe it is simply that they emphasize the story above these other things, while those smaller "films" and literary fiction emphasize the relationships, the characters, the issues, in the absence of compelling story. They find a way to make the "story' about these items. The conflict comes out of them, not out of some larger plot construction. Does that make any sense? As I thought about my fiction, I thought that no one is ever going to file my stuff under "Literary Fiction". Why is that? I pay attention to my word choices. I try to explore my characters' motivations a little. But writing like the examples given by the professor does not come naturally to me. The metaphors and similes, the figurative language, the artistic flair that was evident in the writing in her examples, it just doesn't flow off my pen (or my fingertips). I write like I'm watching a movie. Character A goes here, does this, has this expression on his face (mirroring his mood), Character B and C do this and that, then this happens, and so on and so on. Like I'm watching and describing action on a screen. It strikes me that a lot of genre fiction works this way. I don't know about romance, but SF/Fantasy, Horror, Mystery and Thrillers all seem to, at least to some degree. I once wrote a piece about something Laura Lippman had written in one of her excellent mystery/thriller novels, something about how I could never have come up with the plot device that she did. I know she responded to the article, but I don't recall exactly what she said. But I saw it as Ms. Lippman having a literary bent to her crime fiction. I know a lot of authors have that. Maybe it's something that comes with time. In the meantime, however, I think I'll be content with "writing the movie". *****
I've loved Hugh Howey's WOOL series, and I loved THE PLAGIARIST almost as much, and I love HIS story as well. You have to like it when he comes out with something like WHY YOU SHOULD SELF PUBLISH in the Huffington Post. The fact is that you should write because you love to write, and if you want to share your stuff, you can either submit it to tons of various editors and agents and magazine publishers and whoever else has decided that they are smart enough and perfect enough to sort out the good from the bad, or you can self-publish. I've chosen to self-publish and I'm not going to look back. Whatever happens, happens. *****