“ABOVE ALL: the point of this novel is that it is ‘a book I want to read that hasn’t been written yet.’ Everything in it should be something I would want to read, something I would find exciting, entertaining, touching, intriguing. Of every passage I should ask the question, ‘would I want to read this? Would I be excited by this? Stunned by this? Enthralled by this? Would I not want to put the book down?” —John Schoffstall
Lilith Saintcrow’s lovely rant about the intelligence of readers and the unforgivable sin of copping out: In most cases, including my own, readers are smarter than thee, dear writer. Readers sniff out bullshit like a Southern Baptist mamma smells damnation.
Amen. Though, in defense of the writer, the unconscious mind plays tricks when putting words to the page, and no matter how hard you work, the “copout”—force feeding the reader, playing to the obvious, and so on—might just happen anyway. Storytelling is an imperfect process, though hopefully, the ability to entertain is something that always comes across.
Lilith also links to a post from Elizabeth Bear, who discusses the failure of writers who do not face the visceral and painful in their work: I think emotional distancing is a failing of genre work, not a feature. And while there are a certain number of readers who may prefer not to be challenged in that way, who may prefer that insulation and distance, and a certain number of writers may not be willing to dig hard enough to get to the honest grief and joy…I don’t think it’s of necessity something that genre fiction has to do.
Or as she also says, “If it doesn’t hurt…we’re doing it wrong.”
Well, of course I agree. I’m just not certain the failure to get down and dirty with hard emotions is totally genre specific. Regardless, though, it seems to me that what Lilith and Elizabeth are both saying is that unless you, as writer, invest your story with the Frankenstein lightning of blood and bone and soul, you are cheating the reader, sparing the reader, giving the reader nothing that lasts. And while that is not, perhaps, an example of failure, it is nonetheless a certain kind of negligence, a non-fulfillment of the unspoken promise to take the reader on an emotional out-of-this-body journey that would be impossible, by any other means. The author bleeds and murders, so that the reader may do the same.
Which sounds melodramatic. Way too heavy. I don’t know if anyone wants that kind of pressure. But it’s there, if you dig for it. If you’re even inclined to.
And here, an interview with Guillermo del Toro about his new movie, Pan’s Labyrinth, which is interesting if nothing else for his discussion of fairy tales.