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Putting first things first

From Shifti
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or… “It's the Story, Stupid!”

Author: Rabbit

I can't tell you how frustrating it can be at times to deal with fledgling authors, particularly those who have spent more time in English Lit classes than is really healthy for them. These poor troubled individuals sit before their keyboards and try to write, not a story as I know and understand a story, but something else entirely which even they seemingly cannot define.

"I want to write a short work that will help people become more aware of subject X!" they sometimes begin, and right away I know to expect problems.

"All right," I reply patiently. "Who is your protagonist, and what's he like?"

"Huh?" they reply. "Why, he's the good guy, of course. The one who wants to advance the cause of social justice. His stand on this issue is who he is and what defines him. You really ought to learn more about subject X, Phil. It's very important."

"Right," I usually agree, though most often I deep-down consider subject X to be a trumped-up issue intended to advance the power-base and personal political careers of the individual activists involved. "Have you given any thought to symbols, or theme?"

"Uh... Subject X is very non-violent in nature; I don't want any violence in this tale. Nor should there be any real winners or losers, or very strong characters. No overt conflict, in other words. No real writer worth his salt does that sort of thing anymore."

Typically at this point I just nod and smile and tell the would-be writer -- truthfully -- that I'm just an unschooled auto worker who has no feel for real literature of the sort that they wish to produce. I tell them -- again truthfully -- that my works are powered by crude, powerful emotion and roller-coaster chases, by stand-up brawls and raw struggles for power. I tell them that my works are stone-age in comparison with the post-modern stuff that they've just spent so many years learning about, and that I would never even attempt to write to such a high level of art. Therefore, I can be of little help to them.

Then I sit back and wait, watching the would-be writer post his dull and uninteresting yet very socially and artistically up-to-date story parts less and less frequently as the weeks pass. The work will typically feature long political speeches and a Simon Legree bad guy, who is totally unrealistic. Even worse, the work will oftentimes be written in an advanced experimental style, using lots of italic print and viewpoint shifts and other gaudy contrivances. Almost invariably, the work dies quietly for lack of real characters and story.

Meanwhile, I just keep typing away in my own ignorant stone-age sort of way, authoring story after story about fast cars and powerful guns and gruesome killings and the healing of shattered lives, for the most part utterly refusing to conform to modern literary thinking and all the 'improvements' that my beloved field of Science Fiction and Fantasy has suffered through in the years since the Golden Age. From time to time, I'll admit, I do make a moral or political statement in my fiction. I'm only human, after all. However, the one rule to which I'm always true is that the basics simply must come first. Without conflict and characterization and action, I am only too well aware, my work is nothing. I'm not anything like talented enough to write a readable tale that does not have these qualities.

I guess I'm just too dumb to be a post-modern writer, huh?