Thursday, September 19, 2013

Midnight Brain Drippings: the Good, the Bad, and the Angry

Not going to lie, you guys: I am seriously overclocked these days.  Really want to do another GrammatiCats post, but it may be a bit before I get that far.

But I was rebellious and hedonistic enough to go to workshop last night, and to the traditional IHOP foray following, and we ended up having an especially savory conversation.  It was a swirling syrup-drizzled vortex of big expensive TV shows and giant sprawling book series and the frustrations of aspiring writerdom at large. Here for posterity and my own future reference:

On Big Fat Fiction:

1.  There seems to be a trend nowadays toward deeply flawed / unlikeable characters (Mad Men*, Game of Thrones, et al.)  "Idiots being mean to each other."

*I've only seen 1 1/2 seasons of Mad Men, and don't know how true this is.  But I remember being deeply impressed at how the writers managed to craft a suspenseful, dramatic, multi-layered story when so many traditional staples of TV drama - drugs, murder, violence, explosions, et al - have been taken off the table.

2.  A steady diet of "good guy vs. bad guy" stories can get tiresome, especially when you already know that the good guy is going to win.

3.  Many writers seem to have shaken out of the above mold by writing "bad guy vs. bad guy" stories - or less simplistically, an ensemble cast of morally gray characters at odds with each other.  Strange that "good guy vs. good guy" seems not to be terribly much in fashion.  (Premier hallmark example: The Wire. This is my favorite kind of story, and what I've tried to accomplish with Sixes.)

4.  A Song of Ice and Fire blew my mind when I first read it, because it was such a departure from the Big Fat Fantasy I'd read up until then - giant multi-thousand-page epic-quest monomyths where everybody's an archetype and Joseph Campbell spoiled the ending 60 years ago.  But see #2.

5.  But amazing groundbreaking fiction stops being amazing when it goes on long enough to establish its own constant trends.  If there's a likable character in ASoIaF on the verge of accomplishing something valuable and important, you can lay down your last dollar on it ending in a horrific botch.  It's still plenty interesting to watch the dominoes fall, but there's no longer the suspense of wondering whether they will or not.

And from a separate branch of the conversation,

On the Frustrations of Writing:

6.  So many aspiring writers getting frustrated when they've been so careful to play by the rules, and yet get nowhere.  (Passing similar to what I've heard when guys' well-intentioned efforts to meet women are continually rebuffed.  "I did everything you said you wanted - why don't you like me?")  Very hard to avoid this feeling when the people telling you "no" won't tell you straight what you're doing wrong so you can fix it.

7.  #6 above makes rich ground for unscrupulous people to sell ridiculous prescriptions to the desperate and frustrated.  Even well-meaning folks can unwittingly become bad prophets this way.

8.  Possibly part of the problem is writers asking the wrong question - wondering "how can I get published and make hella money and have my book in all the stores" instead of "how can I become a super bad-ass awesome writer?"  Too much emphasis on the nouns and adjectives - book deal, famous, published, author, signings - instead of on the verb, the activity of writing, as a worthy end in itself.

9.  But in fairness, it's hard not to get one's righteous rageface on when Twilight and 50 Shades sell beaucoup millions while violating all or most of the rules of good fiction that we keep raking each other over the coals about.  Readers can catapult a book to fame on the strength of "cuz I liked it."  Writers have no such luxury.

And separately from everything else,

10. "Red Hulk" is a stupid name for a comic book character.  Full stop.

Anyway, back soon with something more coherent.  For similar, better-curated pearls of wisdom from my posse, visit DFWWW in the meantime.  Our milkshake brings ALL the word-addicts to the yard.

This looks like a job for Bipolar Bear!  But I just can't seem to get out of bed...


  1. I think that #1 is why I like neither Mad Men nor GoT. I don't care about any of the characters. Hmm.

    1. I don't blame you! I haven't found it personally bothersome yet (though I've not watched all the way through either one of them). In the case of Mad Men, I think characters like Pete Campbell can be terrifically interesting - you know, the guy who gets routinely, brutally emasculated and wants SO BADLY to be his own man that he usually doesn't care who gets hurt along the way. But maybe characters like that are more palatable in a setup like Harry Potter's, where Snape and Filch et al are a select minority of the cast, rather than its mainstays.

  2. It's a really personal thing. Tons of people love those shows...just not me.

    But I tend not to watch TV or movies for stress. I want pure happy escapism. So no horror, no torture, etc. I even found "Silver Linings Playbook" hard to watch because of the arguing.

    So my tolerance for that sort of thing is low...

    1. Ha! That's pretty surprising, given what I've heard about the dead-body count in your fiction :)

      But I know what you mean. For me it's embarrassment comedy - I can't watch even five minutes of "Meet the Parents" without wanting to crawl out of my skin. Amazing what pushes our buttons, no?

  3. I am now on book five of the Harry Potter series (I know, I'm late to the party) and I haven't seen any of the movies, but I'm guessing that Snape is really a good guy after all. Am I right?

    1. At this point, you're ahead of me! I read the first three books and watched two of the movies, but I can't remember which ones. The one with the Triwizard Tournament and something else. Let me know when you find out, though - I was thinking he had a touch of the antihero in him!

    2. I think he's just jealous of Harry. Nik and I are reading it together but his interest is waning. He's seen all of the movies, so he knows how it ends. He also attempts to ruin my reading experience by letting slip important details like "Cedric dies in that one." Thanks, Nik.

  4. Yeah, those IHOP conversations after the Workshop can get intense.

    Personally, I think readers/viewers like what they like. I'm the same way. Give me a hard SF novel to read and I'll run the opposite direction. However, make it a steampunk or a just plain weird SF&F story, and I'll devour it. To each their own.

    As for Harry Potter, if I remember correctly book five is very difficult to read. It goes on forever and never really gets anywhere.

    1. Ha! You're totally right, Kyle, but if we just said "everybody just read what you feel like!", then we'd have no excuse for all this wonderful navelgazing and blog-bloviating :)

      And Pam, now you REALLY have to read it - I want to know if he's right!