So I had to do a writing exercise for one of my university classes the other day in which I had to pretend to be a literary author defending my unusual artistic choices.
This was a really interesting exercise for me in seeing the other side of things. Sure, I had a little fun with it, and most of what I say is, in my opinion, utter rubbish, but it was useful to me as a writer in capturing a character thusly opinionated.
The thing one needs first to understand when considering an author’s motives is that of artistic aesthetic. Writing is an art form. In actuality, those so inclined can expressly see a more supreme and sublime art in the written word than can be found in all other dance, art and drama conceived by man combined. Even music, with a language of its own and so vast an expressive range, has only twelve notes. It cannot truly compare to the creative complexities possible in a language of over a million words.
With other art forms, one can imitate a feeling. Or capture clearly an image designed to evoke emotion in one’s audience. With writing one has options afforded by no other medium. One can spell out the truth in brevity. Ascribe adjectives and adverbs to say succinctly what is what. Alternately, one can waltz through one’s verbs, or paint a literary picture with thousands of words. The limitations of one’s self-expression are set by one’s own imagination. Writing is art, music and more.
Does not the architect begin each building anew? Surely he must, for he is no simple engineer, no mere town planner, he is bound by a higher law, that of the artist, to whom each project is not an iteration of thing already dried up; a new well must be dug every time.
No one truly considering themselves an artist can move onto a new project and not, at least in part, attempt to reinvent the wheel. Undoubtedly, they will never succeed, as all stories are mere working cogs of a much grander all-encompassing tale, but redesign they might.
A series is obviously thematically tied, and is thus appropriately built so, as each new part is but an extension of the first. A new work entire, on the other hand, is not bound by the same inherent rules. It is artistic mockery to dig up old bones, to dress them up and try to pass them off as the nouvelle vogue.
Some will argue that plot is a story’s skeleton, or perhaps in some cases, even setting and character, but no, they are all in gross error. It is the form of a thing that makes up its bones. Else every teen paranormal romance or dystopian future book would actually be worth the collective time and money spent on it. But no, first person, present tense, new place or person, fear for life, awkwardness, love triangle, rebellion, bleaurgh!
Anyone with a semblance of artistic vision will decry such soap, such blatant lack of imagination, as fraud. It is not art. It cannot be called so.
No, the real artist does not fashion a new work from the same skeleton; he places ribs for a headdress, a hand around the heart and a femur for a tail and demands, Look at me!
Not every design is pretty, and many have not the plastic appeal of the vampire romance, but each is unique and legitimately worthy of any attention received. That is art.
Art needs no justification. Art is. It is forged by an author with something to say. It is raw. It is real. It is deeply personal and cannot be understood by laymen. This is why there exists plaques for explanation. So those dispossessed of artistic inclinations can contextualise the art they behold. They are given a key, but to cross the threshold is entirely up to the individual.
Likewise, a written work of art can be equally misunderstood by those in need of perspective. One who expects a movie in words has not come for art, but rather to be entertained. They seek not to be stirred up into higher intellectual plains, but instead seek the “freedom” of the brain-rotting prison of cognitive auto-pilot. Thus, art is not for the masses but the enlightened connoisseur, elsewise, will never be appreciated in its time.
Honestly, this is one side of the writing coin. I doubt almost any writer who holds this view will make a living writing, but hey, if you’re not writing to make a living, you are welcome to put together as much literary art as you wish.
Otherwise, those interested in pursuing a career as an author need to strongly consider the business side of things. Writing is a business and business is about selling product or services. The idea that my disparaging literary author above about the masses looking for a movie in words is not far off or crazy. That’s what a lot of popular literature (genre literature especially) has become. To not be willing to cater to that somewhat is just bad business.
Take the Beatles for example. They made albums and albums of catchy music, catered to the masses, and became enormously successful. So very successful, in fact, that in the later years of their career, before John Lennon’s death, they were barely on speaking terms with each other, all had their own widely different musical ideas and directions, and would lay down individual tracks and let the others come in and record parts over the top of it.
They came out with some WEIRD stuff, but they had such a fan base by then that anything they did was lauded as artistic genius.
If you really want to challenge literary conventions and be a hoity-toity artist, which hey, you’re entirely welcome to do, you’re going to be a lot more successful (not to mention actually be able to earn a living writing) by appealing to the masses and building yourself a steady fan base first.
QOTB: Are you a literary hipster or do you prefer quicker-paced genre fiction like the rest of us? Comment below.
Also, if you are into quicker-paced genre fiction, don’t forget to check out my YA mystery romance, The Arthur Lien Abductions. With the release of Part Three: The Quest last month, Part One: The Secret and Part Two: The Mystery are now down to only 99c (US) each on Amazon Kindle.