Monday, April 12, 2010

Progress Report: 4/12/2010

Another week, another submission to an agent. This one also wanted to see the whole manuscript--that makes two now. Still haven't heard back from the first agent who has the whole story.

>twiddle, twiddle.<

Thus far, I've been doing electronic submissions only, but the agent I just submitted to wanted the printed manuscript. Weird to see the story as a massive block of pages, printed in double-space, single-sided. 98,000 words looks pretty substantial from that vantage. The contest at Suduvu is over, and it would appear that Rand Al'Thor from the Wheel of Time series is the winner. I am not a Wheel of Time fan. I have listened to most of them on audio--I like to fill up my commute with audio books, and one characteristic of Robert Jordan's series is that the books are long, so they last a while.

(There was a relative scarcity of audio books for a long time, and I pretty much devoured anything I could get out of the library. This accounts for my familiarity with a number of books that I would never have slogged through under other circumstances. Now, I have an Audible account, and I am never wanting for audio books anymore.)

The fanboy wars in the discussion thread are fascinating to behold. It has made me wonder about the psychology of fandom.

Let's not use the Wheel of Time as a specific example. I think any one of you can think of something that is a) extremely popular, and b) of low quality. You read these books, and if you're knowledgeable about the craft of writing, you know that nobody would ever teach an aspiring author to write that way. There are classes, conferences, and seminars devoted towards teaching people to write better than that.

Yet there it is. Cardboard characters, stilted dialogue, ludicrous plot, bad pacing... you name it, it's right in there in some of the bestselling books of all time.

The inescapable conclusion is that books (or any other storytelling) of low quality can still touch people. Somehow, it resonates so deeply with fans that they not only enjoy the books, they absorb them into their identity. The stories start to define them in important ways. I think every author wants to reach readers at that level, so it's weird to see it happen with poor quality material.

This is something that goes beyond discernment. People don't become fanboys/fangirls because they like something they know is kind of stupid. I think we can all walk out of a theater after the latest action blockbuster and say, "Well, that was dumb, but fun." That's the most basic level of discernment. The next level is more difficult for people to grasp--that is, when something is of high quality, but you don't enjoy it personally. Many people seem to be unable to recognize that something they don't like can still be good.

To enter the zone of the fanboy, though, means discernment goes out the window. Listen to the fanboys, and you will hear them say that the object of their affection is not only good, but the best thing ever written.

One of the Robert Jordan fans, for instance, argued passionately that Jordan's treatment of men and women was not only good, but the most accurate, spot-on, insightful depiction of the relationship between the sexes ever written. Understand that these are books where adults routinely spank one another or box each others' ears in order to communicate. Yet to this fan, his writing is masterful.

I'm not sure where I'm going with this, but it's fascinating to me. I think it's too easy to dismiss fanboys of poor quality storytelling as being people with no taste. That's not enough of an answer. Their experiences are real and valid, their love is sincere (though they may eventually outgrow it--younger fans especially have torrid affairs with stories and characters, only to burn out and move on to the next thing as they grow. Adult fanboys tend to settle in for more lasting commitments). I don't think you can set out, as a writer, to touch that kind of chord with a large group of people. It just has to happen.


Anonymous said...

It is interesting. I think some of it is hitting the right notes that appeal to a particular demographic - wish fulfillment fantasies are a powerful thing. And then there are some authors that I would say aren't good writers, but are good storytellers, and that can make all the difference.

David said...

I started reading the Wheel of Time in high school and sort of drifted away from the series after 8 books or so, but have always intended to finish it. I do like the series, or perhaps more importantly the characters, and don't consider myself either "fanboy" or "unsophisticated." But as a reader, and someone without any great insight or expertise in writing, the books I find compelling are the ones with well-realized worlds and people. Where it seems like characters behave consistently, where their choices carry weight, and their personalities in some sense reflect people or types of people I know/understand. Thunderstruck had these qualities, which is a great part of why I liked it so much. I think WoT does too, though I can recognize where there are differences in the approach to characterization. I think part of it is the specific fantasy subgenre - I mean, the Lord of the Rings has a paper thin one dimensional villain, heroes whose chief goal is to sit at home smoking and drinking, stilted & overwrought dialogue, sexism, an abundance of throwaway characters, deus ex machina, little character development for anyone but Frodo, and pages upon pages of songs and poetry in a made up language. These seem like some pretty severe flaws, but it remains an absolute classic and even a pillar of the genre. What it gets right must somehow outweigh what it gets wrong. *shrug*