March 5th 2010
Are you enjoying the journey?
Depending on what writing bible you follow, there are only 3 real plots in the universe – or 12, or 37, or ONE. It doesn’t matter what the number is, so long as you realize that the basic idea is distilling EVERY book into its constituent parts
If you do that to a ridiculous degree, then you can reduce practically every book to the same set of criteria in the end.
And that’s WRONG.
If you pick a book you love, and you pick a book you loathe, and you put them both into a pot and boil their bones clean… don’t be surprised to find that you’ve got two remarkably similar sets of skeletons on your hands.
There’s a LiveJournal community which goes under the name of “bookfail”, dedicated to readers talking about books they’d read which failed for them on some level. (A hot favorite for a while was “Twilight” – until the moderators asked if anybody was reading anything else at all. Some surprising books come popping up, books which I feel don’t deserve to be there at all – one person even disliked “The Poisonwood Bible” by Barbara Kingsolver, for reasons that doubtless seem valid when in the poster’s own context and inside their own head but which come out in public as rather strange.)
However, the community has shifted a little of late to cover what has been headlined as “overrated authors” and someone posted this bit distilling a certain author’s book into its constituent parts:
“A young, shy man/frustrated girl discovers a parallel fantasy world. This character goes into it to escape the problems of the real world, but finds the fantasy world has its own dangers–though relatively infrequently are those dangers really all that dangerous. It takes a little walking around, but eventually the shy man/frustrated girl figures out the internal logic of the fantasy world, returns to the real world, and then realizes that the fantasy world was better anyhow–typically because there was some other friend or love interest discovered there that the protagonist wants to return to.
There you go. This guy has written like 20 books and you have just read all of them.
You know, the Hero’s Journey was a lot more interesting of a formula before it was used as a basic escapist defense for people who are lonely, no matter how quirky.”
The poster is talking about Neil Gaiman, and his criticism suggests he just doesn’t like the author or the genre. Now, this is what makes the world of publishing so utterly wonderful – it takes all kinds. Love an author or hate an author, but do it for the right reasons – not because the author in question doesn’t write the kind of book you like to read.
Neil Gaiman’s books may have a common theme running through them, but by God the man is a master wordsmith and the books are worth reading for the books themselves, for the language and the storytelling skills contained therein, and this is not to say that they will all be uniformly brilliant but they WILL be worth the journey — if you like that particular kind of cup of tea. If you do not, then none of them will appeal, and what are you doing reading Neil Gaiman anyway after deciding that the style or the theme or the story or the genre isn’t for you?
The author writes what the author writes. A reader’s own taste governs is the only thing that governs their reading habits. Readers – vote with your feet! Cross the aisle in the bookstore and look for something different if the book you picked up doesn’t appeal.
Opinions can vary widely and in no arena more so than in the clearly subjective circles of literature where one man’s meat often IS another man’s poison. It’s just as well that there are as many kinds of writers as there are readers, because all of these varied tastes need to be sated by material . So there’s room for all of us writers out there, seeing as we are not really read by the same audiences.
The key and only question in reading a work of fiction is, are you enjoying the journey?
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Alma Alexander is a novelist, short story writer and anthologist whose books include High Fantasy ("Hidden Quen""Changer of Days"), historical fantasy ("Secrets of Jin Shei", "Embers of Heaven"), contemporary fantasy ("Midnight at Spanish gardens") and YA (the Worldweavers series, the Were Chronicles). She lives in the Pacific Northwest with her husband and two cats. Visit site.
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