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2005-05-21 1:41 AM
The "A" word
It doesn't amaze me anymore, but I get really annoyed when novelists don't want to use the "A" word.
They'll talk craft all day. Craft, craft, craft. You've got to have the craft or all the great ideas in the world won't matter. Craft separates the writers from the wannabes. Craft is what it's all about. Visit just about any message board where novelists hang out and they'll be talking craft and agents, and shouting down anyone who thinks differently. Three-act structure! Hook 'em in the first line! Who are we rooting for? Negation of the negation!
I hate groupthink of any kind (including my own, when I manage to recognize it), so I'm always the jerk who doesn't play nice. I'm the one who makes no friends by saying Okay, fine, craft, good--but if even the author thinks what he's doing deserves the same word I'd use for macramÃ©, why would I bother reading the book?
And then I feel bad, because it's very hard to write any book, and here I am challenging people who are trying to do it. I'm not just sounding like a jerk; I am a jerk. But nobody else is saying it, and it's true.
ART. Say it. Say the "A" word with me, brother. There's nothing wrong with a book that's all craft--and there's also nothing wrong with art.
This is about where the accusations of pretension usually start--usually some variation of Why does everything have to be deep and meaningful? Why can't some things just be fun?
It's an idiotic bleat. It's leftover resentment from junior high English and has nothing to do with reality. Nobody said everything had to be deep and meaningful--but unless you're prepared to show that depth and meaning don't exist in the first place, you've got no argument. If they exist, they're fair game for fiction. You don't like it? Fine, don't read it. And make sure you call people names like "pretentious" when they try to write it. Especially when the writing doesn't fly as high as the aspiration.
Look. You're a grownup now. You've got a capacity for depth that you didn't have when you were forced to autopsy THE HEART OF DARKNESS for Mrs. Whoever. Don't you want to use it once in a while? I do. Not only that, but I want to write books that have more going for them than a plot that makes sense and characters who behave consistently. I'm not in any of this to win awards for best coloring within the lines. That's the definition of a day job, and I already have one of those.
Art. It's ART. It's an ART. Say it, sister! Say it proud!
Yours isn't? That's cool. Mine is. Judge it bad art if you want. Judge it stupid art. Say you didn't like it. Call it names. But please, god, knock it off already with the endless, deafening drone of the "craft" mantra and the suspicious, blue-collar, plain-folks posing. There's room for everybody here. Even me. Even you.
When novelists are the ones saying novels aren't art, we're in a truly pathetic place.
This is about where the protestations of "Creativity can't be taught" usually start.
I wish I hadn't been using profanity so much lately, so that when I say this, it would have a greater effect:
Creativity can be taught. Give me ten minutes with somebody you think isn't creative.
Lack of creativity is usually just fear of feeling stupid. Feeling stupid is the opposite of feeling smart. Feeling smart means you already know how to handle whatever problem is in front of you because you've been here before.
Repeating a solution when you recognize a recurring problem is probably as good a definition of technique as I'll ever find. Technique, craft, basically the same thing.
That thing is not why anyone loves any book; no one melts when you mention a title because of how obediently the author adhered to rules of craft. And while I'm at it, I'll use the "B" word, too. There is such thing as beauty, and it is something worth trying to achieve. And the "G" word. I manage grace from time to time, too. Every so often. When God smiles.
Or maybe I'm wrong and there's only craft. A foolish consistency is the key to greatness.
In which case, best of luck to all of us with our macramÃ©.
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