In defence of classics- again!

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Prepare yourself, for I am about to say something *ground-breaking*, *momentous*, *lifechanging* even: classics are worthwhile and important. I know, I know, you can stop the applause now 😉 I’m pretty sure I’ve made my defences for classics before and talked about their upsides. Alas- this seems to be the perennial problem of our age that won’t go away. Every week or so, I still see people telling others not to bother reading classics. And I despair whenever I see someone using these horrible, terrible, NOT GOOD arguments. So, it’s about time to put down those swords, grab the much-mightier pen, and let’s break this down, shall we?

“They’re pretentious”- I hear many-a misled individual moan. Here’s the kicker- complex/beautiful/unusual language *is not* automatically pretentious. In fairness, I think there are multiple reasons for this misbelief, starting with the fact that they can be written in archaic language, which is less accessible to the modern reader. Now, where the mistake is being made is that using complex words and a style from 200 years ago DOES NOT mean the author’s intent was to impress upon you its importance in some hoity-toity way. Hard for the modern reader ≠ pretentious. A lot of classics were aimed at the “mass market” (as much as that existed) in the same way a popular paperback might be today. It is a truth universally acknowledged that poor people went to see Shakespeare back in the day 😉 This is not to say that there are no pretentious classics- BUT (and this will come as a shocker) classics are not all the same and come from a range of genres- as was brilliantly pointed out by Pages Unbound.

“There’s no benefit/it’s the same to just watch the movie”- erm no. I mean, I’m not sure I have to explain the difference between reading a book and watching a movie to a bunch of bookworms 😉 Let’s just say, I think we can all agree that there’s endless complexity when it comes to books, it stretches the brain and this is particularly important when it comes to children’s development. Because, yes, classics may provide more of a challenge, but that is really beneficial when it comes to education. You wouldn’t expect an athlete to get better only competing at the lowest level. The language of classics alone often makes a huge difference as well- you can’t just cheat the system by brushing up on sparknotes. There are so many literary devices that you miss if you don’t read it on the page. I’ve heard it said recently the difference is much like looking at a photo versus a painting- the depth is so much greater when you can see the layers for yourself.

“They’re elitist”- seems to be a very pervasive point of view at the moment. Unfortunately, it hurts the very people it pertains to help. Somehow, it’s supposed to help people from lower socio-economic backgrounds to tell them they don’t need to read classics- yet in truth this race to the bottom mentality stands in the way of self-improvement and stops poorer kids from levelling the playing field. Not only will it be impossible to out-compete people who have top-notch educations with this attitude, but it also means our societies will be less educated for it. In the words of headteacher and founder of the Michaela Community School, Katherine Birbalsingh “They are denying a decent education to black kids, because being able to understand Shakespeare is a right that my kids deserve and knowing who Mozart was and hearing his music is a right that they should be able to access.” We should be fighting for underprivileged kids to get good educations, not standing in their way! And on that note…

“They’re all written by old white men”- ahh the criticism that historically speaking Europeans were European. Aside from the what do you actually expect to come out of Europe? counterargument, I do think that there’s other problems with this outlook. One, you may need to re-examine the last few hundred years of the European literary canon; two, I will always advocate expanding your horizons and considering reading *outside* the Western canon. Go on, I dare you 😉 Though there are benefits of reading in the original language, which I’ve mentioned, you can still get access to the ideas and learn something new. But, even if we were to assume all classics were written by “old white men”, it doesn’t actually reduce their merit, make them less valuable or stop them being important for the reasons already stated.

“They put children off reading”- well, I wouldn’t say this is true for a lot of children, as Briana @Pages Unbound wrote about in: “Why I fell in love with reading because of old boring books”. I feel much the same way and many, many literature students will tell you the same thing. Unfortunately, I can’t say that every teacher will be brilliantly inspiring. Plus, there is always the matter of personal taste (although I will urge people put off by a few books not to throw out the baby with the bathwater). Now everything I’ve said so far might indicate that I want children reading classics, whilst playing the violin and sipping tea. Truth is though, I prefer to take the middle ground when it comes to the “what kids should be reading” debate. There should be a balance in children reading for pleasure and for educational purposes. As Krysta @Pages Unbound pointed out in her post “The Unacknowledged Nuances in the Argument for Choice in School Reading“, left to themselves, children will never pick up certain types of books and will nearly always go for the easy option. While it can seem quite prescriptive, the real trick with reading lists is to find a balance- a lot of teachers try to find a mix of well-written/enjoyable/imaginative reads etc. But they’ll also understand that there have to be progressively more challenging books. After all, in the words of George R R Martin:

a mind needs books like a sword needs a whetstone

Classics are the *ultimate* whetstone. And on that weird analogy, I’d like to ask you if you think classics have value? What other defences do you have? Let me know in the comments

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In Defence of Girly Girl Genres

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A while back I did a discussion on genre snobbery and one of the things that sparked that debate was something I never actually got around to mentioning in the post: the way a lot of women’s fiction and frankly anything aimed at women is treated with derision. I ended up going in a different direction for that piece- though I still had *so much* to say on the topic- which is why we’re finally gonna get into this sugar-and-spice-and-all-things-nice (and totally not controversial) topic 😉 Hold onto your bonnets and try not to get your petticoat in a twist, I’m about to go into the trenches!

keeping fait review
Needless to say, I don’t agree with this review

It’s not uncommon to see denigration of media aimed at females- particularly when it has the audacity to exhibit typically feminine traits 😉 In fact, recently, I was reading a review for the TV show Keeping Faith, when I saw this inane and ridiculous criticism that it had too much “girly music”. To me, a show about a female lawyer, fighting for justice, whilst also being an incredible mum and genuinely caring person is pretty positive piece of media, but what do I know? Apparently, even showing the teensiest bit of femininity must be slated 😉

And I can hardly pretend this is the first time. On a grander scale, Taylor Swift has oft been criticised for being “too girly”. And we can all remember the “AHH TWILIGHT SUCKS!!!” craze- which one could argue ended up being just as hysterical in the end as screaming girls shouting “bite me Edward!” (okay maybe not 😉). Funnily enough, I’m not arguing that Twilight is somehow a fantastic piece of art, but it’s surprising to me that it got so much backlash in mainstream media in a way that other trashy things don’t. For instance, I never see the same level of mockery for James Bond- even though it’s equally as fanciful and has its own issues. This is not an invitation to hate on James Bond- I think everyone is entitled to enjoy whatever they want- yet this chill attitude seems to go out the window when it’s a girly thing that people are enjoying. And, as entertaining as it may be watching everyone from college professors to 50-year-old blokes ripping into something aimed at teenage girls, I do think it would be good if there was *a bit* of perspective here. Not only is this taking said media much too seriously, but I personally believe women and girls should be able to explore their fantasies in a healthy way, free from this ridiculous level of scrutiny and judgement.

BUT I hear many people in the back shouting, why are you complaining, don’t you get a bunch of superhero/action-flick/dramas with female leads nowadays? Well, I’m glad you brought it up, kind heckler, because that’s part of the problem. I’m gonna be brutally honest: these are mostly movies made for men, by men, with a female lead shoehorned in. Don’t get me wrong, I usually enjoy a good action flick, yet I’m not seeing how a woman portraying entirely masculine traits represents most real women. We are constantly bombarded by the idea of what women *should* want to consume and how we *supposedly* behave, all the while any sign of femininity is snuffed out.

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In fact, we only have to look at what became of the rom com in Hollywood- cos it’s not like they died a natural death. No, instead, producers told us we didn’t want them anymore and stopped making them. Oh really– we don’t want them, even though most women I meet talk about how much they miss the rom com era of the nineties. Oh sure- we don’t want them- despite the box office success of Crazy Rich Asians, popularity of Netflix rom coms and (remarkably) the surge of affection for the Hallmark channel of all things!

None of this is to stoke revolutionaries to *punch the air* and shout “LET’S TAKE AWAY JAMES BOND FROM MEN THEN!” Unfortunately, I do see this response and I find that attitude counterproductive. As I’ve already mentioned, I actually like plenty of more masculinised media and think that men should have just as much space for their fantasies. HOWEVER, that doesn’t mean I want girly stories pushed aside. I think we can move past the idea that “girly” automatically means “less good”. I want to see women being more fairly represented as we are. And that shouldn’t be a controversial statement.

orangutan in dress

Really good content on this:

The Attack on Femininity in Fiction: Masculine Women and Disempowered Men by the Authentic Observe – https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Jumw30_j9cs&t=2s

Trope Talk – Strong Female Characters by Jordan Harvey – https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ReE5n3jLdzk

Dear Stephanie Meyer by Lindsay Ellis – https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=8O06tMbIKh0

Let’s Not Judge People on Literary Taste https://franlaniado.wordpress.com/2019/04/17/lets-not-judge-people-based-on-literary-taste/

Chivalry Dying in Books by Kelly @Another Book in the Wall https://anotherbookinthewall.com/2018/03/07/chivalry-dying-in-books-wednesday-rambles/

Also, Strong Female Characters, Mary Sues and Manic Pixie Dream Girls- What the Heck is Up with Female Characters in Books, by me 😉 https://theorangutanlibrarian.wordpress.com/2018/12/09/strong-female-characters-mary-sues-and-manic-pixie-dream-girls-and-what-the-heck-is-up-with-female-characters-in-books/

So do you agree or disagree with my defence of girly genres? Let me know in the comments!

Is all art fanfiction?

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Last time, I talked about fanfic, I said I wasn’t going to go down the “all art is fanfic” route. Last time, I said I didn’t have a vested interest. Last time, I broached the topic, I lit powder keg. Well, *a lot* has changed in the two years since last time, so let’s see if we can have a conversation about this without things getting too explosive 😉

Now firmly in the age of reboots, remakes and retellings, I’ve found myself wondering where is the line between fanfic and art? Let’s look at the definition again:

fiction written by a fan of, and featuring characters from, a particular TV series, film, etc.

Disney pillaging its old animations and remaking them shot for shot… seems like fanfic to me. Looting the spoils of Marvel and DC… seems like we could call that fanfic. Buying off creators, like Lucas, and making derivative work… yeah probably fanfic (incidentally, many previous works have been relegated from canon, because of course only massive corporations have permission to make Star Wars stories…). Regardless of whether one likes these franchises or not, one could regard these “new” works as akin to a music cover, because they skirt around legal issues and (mostly) compensate the original creator (again, at the risk of going severely off topic, this does beg the question, why stop there?). Outside of the mainstream, I can see a resurgence of fanfic coming from disgruntled fans and critics, desperate to fix the decimated plotlines and endings for their favourite books/films/shows (*coughs* yes, this is a thinly veiled reference to Game of Thrones… *cough cough*).

game of thrones ending brienne meme

Additionally, art is conversation. I’ve long held the view that originality is overrated, since nothing is technically original to begin with. To return to Disney, I recently watched a few interesting discussions on Youtube about the origins of the Lion King. The gist of the debate is that Osamu Tezuka was inspired by Disney’s Bambi to create Kimba the Lion, which in turn Disney used to launch its own Lion King story (playing up its so-called originality in marketing).

lion king shock

While people have been quick to slam one side or the other, I don’t see this as a black and white issue. If you watch Kimba, you’ll quickly notice the visual and structural differences. Which pulls me away from looking at this as a controversy. Instead, it’s made me think about where we draw the lion (*ahem*) line on what constitutes transformative work. Once you consider whether its satire, if the characters are the same, if the storyline is similar enough, it might be possible to see a huge amount of creativity in fanfic. Not to keep using the same old examples, but there are plenty of success stories for fanfic-turned-mainstream, where all that needed changing before publication were the names.

Okay, so much of what I’ve said is in favour of the view that “all art is fanfic”. And indeed, these days I find myself much more sympathetic to that mindset. But I do still have reservations, because the statement is too much of an oversimplification of art. As much as art can be a response to other art and as much as all art will inevitably draw on its predecessors (as discussed in my piece on “intertextuality vs innovation”), they often diverge so much from the “original” that it can be hard to see the similarity. Take Legend by Marie Lu, inspired by Les Mis. Heck, take Philip Pullman’s His Dark Materials, which reflects on Paradise Lost. These works are so wholly different that I couldn’t reasonably describe them as fanfic. They have grown lives of their own, had adventures and rode off into the sunset. And, who is to even say where the original began? Or from what pieces the multifaceted novel is derived? To me, it is too complex an issue to be satisfied with the “all art is fanfic” refrain. As I’ve said before, if we water down the term “fanfic” it would cease to have much meaning at all. To me, it’s just art, with an asterisk that all artists are likely big ol’ fanboys and fangirls.

So, what do you think? Do you agree with me that all artists are fans? Or do you think that all art is fanfic? I’d love to hear your take!

Authors are *AMAZING*

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I mean, as book bloggers, we hardly need to be told this 😉 But sometimes it’s just good to show our appreciation and talk about why authors ROCK OUR WORLD!

book love belleThey give us BOOKS! We get to live vicariously through their characters and go for wild romps in their imaginations.

 

 

it's aliveThey bring people (okay characters) to life. I mean, don’t we all have book boyfriends/girlfriends/besties… sometimes they feel more real than actual people and they wouldn’t exist if not for authors!

 

 

adventureThey take us on adventures! As George R R Martin says: “A reader lives a thousand lives before he dies… The man who never reads lives only one.”

 

whole world in my handsThey create whole worlds for us to play in! Because of their worlds, we get to be children again, wonderstruck by new marvels and sensations. They bring our very imaginations to life.

 

 

braveThey put their neck on the line. The very action of putting their thoughts out there is brave. And then so many of them go and write dark, intense, pushing-the-boundaries books out there- whether I always agree with their message or not, I respect their courage to do so.

eurekaThey help us realise truths about reality. Using well trodden paths and archetypes and tropes, they open our eyes to things we may already know, but get to see with fresh fervour, as if for the first time.

 

 

I'll help you kiara and zira lion king 2They’re supportive of readers and often very helpful. I feel like there’s endless criticism of authors and they’re always coming under fire for something or other- yet they’re often happy to set the record straight and that’s cool of them. And I guess this is something I’ve been thinking a lot about lately- and am definitely going to be discussing more shortly. I think it’s easy to fall into criticism and sometimes harder to think about all the positive ways strangers can impact us.

Are you grateful to authors? Do you have any other ways they’re awesome? Let me know in the comments!

Confessions of a (justified) mood reader…

 

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This has been a long time coming. I’ve been holding this secret inside and I don’t think I can keep it from you anymore: I’M A MASSIVE MOOD READER AND SOMETIMES I MAKE RIDICULOUS READING CHOICES! (okay a lot of you already knew that and so this was perhaps a little melodramatic 😉) Point is, it’s time I exposed my silliness to the world… (so that you can laugh/judge/commiserate with me!) Let’s get into some of the ways mood reading effects my reading:

piles of booksI am incapable of keeping to a TBR. I’ve talked about this before, but there’s a reason you’ll never see a proper TBR post from me (and if I do one, it’s more like: here’s some books I plan to read within the next decade 😉)

 

merlin books sharingOh and forget about keeping to hard deadlines- I like to have months to read an ARC, buddy reads are often a no-go and I will happily read a gift years after I get it (the exception being that I am almost pathological when it comes to library due dates 😉)

 

shameBecause of that I have so much TBR Shame! Often people will be impressed that I have only 300 books on my goodreads TBR… until I point out that I have wishlists with hundreds of books on every. single. book site (I don’t even think this is simply being disorganised- I think this is a way of tricking myself into believing my TBRs are not all exponentially long). And I only ever seem to grow them instead of making them smaller. It’s a real struggle to delete something off the list that I will never might not read- let alone pick them all up! (which to be fair would be impossible, since I seem determined to list every book in the universe, no matter how much it seems like these lists are never ending blackholes…)

 

hoarding booksI also hoard ebooks like there’s no tomorrow. I have books for every occasion and every possible mood- some of which have been on my TBR *forever and a day*. Here are just some of the books I’ve got on my kindle that I’ve been meaning to read for years:

 

(yes I am sneakily including these so I can guilt myself later 😉)

choose books2And yet I still struggle to find the perfect book for the perfect moment! I will spend ages between books looking at my shelves/overdrive/going to the library, trying to determine what’s right for my mood and choosing what to read next… which should be easy with options from *all the genres* but NOPE.

 

book loveBecause *lowers voice* nothing really happens if I make the wrong choice. Sometimes I could pick something up in a genre I don’t feel like and just put it down again. The rest of the time, I secretly know that I could probably choose anything and it wouldn’t actually matter if I thought I was in the mood for it- if it’s a great book, I’ll get in the mood…  

So are any of you mood readers? Do you have the same problems as me? Let me know in the comments!

Plotting Vs Pantsing – Differences in Style #9

 

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“Outlines are the last resource of bad fiction writers who wish to God they were writing masters’ theses.” – Stephen King

“The first draft is just you telling yourself the story.” – Terry Pratchett

“If you do enough planning before you start to write, there’s no way you can have writer’s block.” – R L Stein

Well, if the title plotting vs pantsing hasn’t stoked a few fires, those quotes surely will have. For those of you unfamiliar with the terms, plotting is planning your books before you write them and pantsing is “flying by the seat of your pants” aka winging it. However, whether you’ve been in the writing community long or only had a casual glance at authortube, the first thing you’ll notice whenever this discussion comes up is the (unnecessary) divisiveness of the debate. Many writers often feel attacked by the other side and can get super defensive… which is why I’d like to have a chill discussion about what the differences are and why both processes are equally cool. Now, I usually talk about outcomes rather than the actual process- which is why this is such a unique topic for me. Because I don’t think you can tell the difference just from observation. Let’s have a look at some famous examples of both and you’ll see why…

(NB I had a great deal of fun researching this, but a lot of these came from various sources/interviews/quotes, so forgive me if I’ve got any wrong- I’ve tried to include as many of these as possible at the bottom of the page so you can check for yourself)

Famous plotters:

J K Rowling

John Grisham

Sylvia Plath

Arthur Miller

Leigh Bardugo

R L Stein

Rainbow Rowell (semi-plotter)

Hilary Mantel (likes to storyboard)

Kazuo Ishiguro (hardcore plotter)

Ken Follett

Virginia Woolf

Fyodor Dostoevsky

Vladimir Nabokov

Joseph Heller

William Faulkner (go figure- you can’t achieve that level of obscurity without planning)

Marcel Proust

Famous pantsers:

George R R Martin (though famously coined the term gardener)

Laini Taylor

Stephen King

Tim Bowler

Margaret Atwood

Ray Bradbury

Pierce Brown

Neil Gaiman (prefers the gardener term)

Maas (natural pantser, but has had to plot)

James Joyce

Mark Twain

Ernest Hemmingway

If you can tell the difference at a glance, you must be a savant. Personally, I found a few surprises (some plot-light authors are on the planning side and there are most certainly complexly plotted stories on the pantser side).

Really though, the thing that came up a lot of the time during my research was “eh I kinda plan” or “eh I sorta wing it”. Schwab, for instance, referred to herself as a “connect-the-dots-er”. George R R Martin, one of the world’s leading “gardeners” famously gave the notes for his ending to showrunners. Joyce was a self-proclaimed pantser and yet he too did extensive research. And I read a fantastic post about all the ways plotting and pantsing overlap. This makes the most sense to me. I for one consider myself a hardcore plotter… and yet this is only true up to a point. Beat sheets are a joy-killer for me, I’ve pantsed a novella and I usually leave subplots/romances unplanned (which helps keep some parts a bit more dynamic). That’s why I think drawing a clear-cut line between the two is a little rigid. Especially as there are pros and cons to both…

Plotting upsides

One of the best things for me about knowing an ending is that it gives a clear goal for you to write towards. Personally, I find it keeps characters consistent, whilst also allowing for growth. If you know where a character has to end up and how it’s different from where they came from, you can chart a clear course. This also may allow for a smoother plot and maybe even a cleaner drafter (maybe). The genres I’d say this is ideal for is thrillers, mysteries and epics- because a pre-planned plot can help you weave interesting setups and even red herrings organically into the narrative. Though foreshadowing in tragedy doesn’t go amiss 😉 I’d also say, as Stein pointed out, it’s a great way to prevent writer’s block and can sooth any nervous starters. 

One of the misconceptions of plotting is that it doesn’t allow for deviation- therefore sucking all the creativity out of the project. Now, this obviously isn’t true in the sense that creativity and imagination has to happen at some stage in order for the story to work- it may just happen in the planning stage. However, I’d say for me (and many other plotters) I tend to think about it more as adding complexity- you haven’t taken anything away by putting a plan in place- you’ve just laid the foundations for you to build on (we’re back to that awesome architect metaphor!) Also, frankly, I’m pretty sure even the most diehard plotters deviate at some point. I don’t think anyone can get away without some aspect of discovery writing.

Plotting downsides

Unfortunately, though, there is the danger of pre-plotted stories becoming predictable. There is also the argument that it doesn’t leave room for inspiration (which I’d disagree with as a plotter- having a roadmap doesn’t ruin my enjoyment, especially since the best laid plans of mice and men often go awry and you never really know where you’ll end up. Plus, creating plans can be a lot of fun in its own right). The most serious argument I have heard is that planned endings give you the danger of veering into propaganda- since you know exactly what you want to say and how you want to say it (though, looking at the authors above, I think it’s fairly safe to say the danger is no stronger whichever path you choose). I’d say the biggest cause for concern is that sticking to a planned ending may not always be in the story’s best interest, as a narrative might shift organically over time (the best example of this being HIMYM’s forced ending).

Pantsing upsides

I do definitely see the upsides of pantsing (even if it fills me with utter dread). Because countless pantsers will tell you how thrilling this method is, how much fun they have and how it helps them keep their ideas fresh. It’s known for being open to the imagination and giving the writer as much of a wild ride as the reader. And the results are telling- there are some stellar authors who swear by pantsing. For some people, this invigorating process is certainly the way to go, which can give raw and powerful results.

Pantsing downsides

Not knowing what’s going to happen can certainly have its issues though. The fear would be that after a stellar opening, the story can fizzle out (I know I’ve read a few of those). I also think there is the potential for plots to come out of nowhere or feel random (the upside of this being that the universe is pretty random- so that gives it something of an edge in terms of realism over a heavily constructed story). There is a potential to come unstuck as well (although many plotters will tell you they have the same issue- *raises hand*- and there is always the option to plot/feel/stab your way out of any writing corner you’ve backed yourself into). I think the same final issue of forced endings comes into play- because this seems to be a pitfall for pantsers as well.

Ultimately, it’s not so important which method you choose, because the process doesn’t mark out the end result for greatness. These discussions always allow for the basic truth: all creatives have a different process. No two writers work the same. And, even more importantly, we must take stock of this simple fact:

all men must edit.png

Sources:

https://themillions.com/2016/07/planners-pantsers-write-novel.html

http://www.amreading.com/2016/09/18/what-are-plotters-and-pantsers-hint-j-k-rowling-is-one-and-stephen-king-is-the-other/

https://www.goodreads.com/blog/show/549-plotters-vs-pantsers-can-you-guess-which-side-stephen-king-and-j-k-ro

https://thethousandlives.wordpress.com/2014/06/26/fierce-reads-san-diego-stop-leigh-bardugo-ava-dellaira-emmy-laybourne-and-jennifer-mathieu/

http://bookandlatte.com/2012/11/sarah-j-maas-how-i-write.html

http://www.lainitaylor.com/2013/07/

https://yawednesdays.com/2015/11/16/10-things-we-learned-about-rainbow-rowell-and-david-levithan/

Other posts in the series:

Pared down vs Purple prose – Differences in Style #1

The art of Intertextuality vs Innovation – Differences in Style #2

*ALL the Viewpoints – Differences in Style #3

Coherence Vs Incoherence – Differences in Style #4

Telling Vs Showing – Differences in Style #5

Unreliable Narrators – Differences in Style #6

The Art of Fragmentation – Difference in Style #7

Subverting Expectations vs Wish Fulfilment – Differences in Style #8

What do you think? Do you think there are any upsides/downsides that I’ve missed? If you’re a writer, do you consider yourself a plotter or a pantser? Let me know in the comments!

Subverting Expectations vs Wish Fulfilment – Differences in Style #8

 

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Normally, I do these posts because I’ve read a cool book recently or been writing something related or seen a craft video- not this day! For a change, I was inspired (and challenged) to do this because of my recent TV watching habits. Thanks to the shocker of an ending for Game of Thrones and the contrastingly amazing finale of Avatar: The Last Airbender, I’ve been thinking a lot about how story may (or may not) stick the landing.

So what do I mean by wish fulfilment? Well, in the case of a comedy, this is when characters get exactly what they want/deserve. The baddies are punished, the goodies are rewarded. In a tragedy, the heroes suffer too, but we’re okay with that cos readers are masochists it’s *cathartic*. Basically, if a book does what it says on the tin, chances are it fits into this.

The only rare cases when this fails is in satire or if there’s been an implied twist on the tropes. A good example of this for me was in Shadow and Bone, which I felt held promise as being a fresh take on the fantasy genre, but ended up being conformist. That said, a lot of people loved that very traditional ending, so you can see how that gets subjective pretty fast 😉 There is also the issue of predictability- which I find a lot of readers are forgiving of- even in the thriller genre. What I will say is when this veers off into really dodgy territory is when a choice is made for “fanservice”- where the creator makes a decision purely to please fans- which ultimately backfires spectacularly. I often imagine misguided producers shrieking: “I was doing this to please you! I thought it was what you wanted! LOVE ME!” Let’s just say, I’m not a fan.

Moving on, I think we’ve heard a lot about subverting expectations lately because of Game of Thrones royally screwing up its ending. However, it might surprise non-fans to hear that Game of Thrones actually used to be the *BOMB* at this (back when the show was following GRRM’s books, that is). Spoilers if you plan to watch/read it, the Red Wedding in particular is my favourite example: yes, there was misdirection upto this point, but when you looked back you could see exactly how this was set up and how it was secretly the logical outcome for Robb’s story arc. Sure, it was a shock, because the characters involved didn’t see it coming, but a clever reader could’ve seen the writing on the wall. And yes, plotlines were abandoned because of it, but it not only made logical sense, it left you with an even greater sense of longing for what might have been AND managed to create dramatic consequences for the other players in the story. Essentially, subverting expectations enhanced the story in every way!

Sadly, subverting expectations won’t always work and the final season of Game of Thrones proved this unequivocally. There was very little setup in order for there to be payoff, often plotlines came out of nowhere, and there appeared to be times when the writers pivoted direction mid-story.

D and D we hope to avoid the expected.png

But of course, as George R R Martin says:

george r r martin plan.png

One of the biggest components for this failure is that the building blocks of character and story have to be in place in order for this to work. Sometimes you can get away with this in terms of tone, as with Carry On, indicating through jokes that this is a parody of Harry Potter; sometimes you have write hundreds of thousands of words before you can twist the story on its head. Point is, readers/viewers will be unhappy if a plot thread comes out of nowhere. Plus, there has to be a reason for doing this: humour is a good reason, challenging convention is another, entertaining the viewer also works… to an extent. Because if the audience suspects this is purely for shock value, they’ll ultimately be dissatisfied. Again, it all comes down to delivering that longed for catharsis.

Most of the time, things fall in the messy middle though. Endings that are bittersweet- like the emotionally charged victory of Lord of the Rings– can be equally as satisfying. Even things we think of as classic tragedies, like Romeo and Juliet, play into comedic tropes in order to subvert them (and ultimately ends up conforming to tragic conventions). Narrative arcs will generally allow for characters to rise and fall (in tragedy allowing for a moment of bliss and in comedy giving a time for despair). Very few books “flatline” (a distinct example being City of Dreadful Night– where the narrative remains bleak throughout). For instance, this is a useful source showing the rise and falls in six basic plots. And here’s my (entirely subjective and unscientific) graph of where a story might fall in terms of subverting or fulfilling expectations:

(where tragedies end in death and comedies end in marriage)

subvert expectations graph.png

Whether you entirely agree or disagree with where I’ve placed certain stories, hopefully you can see the difference in endings. And even after we’ve considered all of this, sometimes an ending can deliver for some fans and not others (as is the case with Harry Potter). Chances are there will be dissatisfied parties and I will say that there’s no pleasing everyone- and that’s not a bad thing! Really, there is no one way to stick the landing and we always have to consider that taste plays a part. And I haven’t even covered the difference plotting vs pantsing makes when it comes to endings… that’s a discussion for another time.

Pared down vs Purple prose – Differences in Style #1

The art of Intertextuality vs Innovation – Differences in Style #2

*ALL the Viewpoints – Differences in Style #3

Coherence Vs Incoherence – Differences in Style #4

Telling Vs Showing – Differences in Style #5

Unreliable Narrators – Differences in Style #6

The Art of Fragmentation – Difference in Style #7

So what are your thoughts on the differences? Do you agree or disagree with anything I’ve said here? Let me know in the comments!