Friday, November 16, 2007

My problem with modern novels, part 2

Okay, so back to bitching about modern novels.

I mentioned Hollywood, and I think that's a big part of it. It's not that Hollywood has taken over the novel publishing world, but that the novel publishing world has shifted far into the spectrum of entertainment.

There's nothing wrong with entertainment. It's entertaining. I like being entertained. But I also like a little extra from time to time. Sugar on my cereal, for example.

The film industry has almost always been one of instant gratification, stooping (so to speak) to the lowest of our emotions. That's inherent in the medium to some extent. You go to the flickers and you're out in two hours.

Novels don't have to be that way. What have you enjoyed more (usually), that novel you read in one day or that novel you delved deeply into for a month?

But to backtrack a little, even Hollywood has become more Hollywood in the last 10 or so years. I haven't seen an action movie in years (other than "V for Vendetta") that I thought had anything more to it than just fighting and death. But there have been plenty of movies that do more than just tug on your heartstrings or grab at your nut sack. And I'm even talkin' action movies.

Apocalypse Now

The Good, The Bad and The Ugly

Hell, even the first Matrix movie had some thematic material to it (though I think a lot of that was lost to special effects and a rush for $$$ in the sequels).

At first glance, something as action-oriented as a spaghetti western might not seem to have any substance, but that just means you're not paying attention. You have to look for the little things.

When I look for the little things in modern movies, I find nothing but romantic comedies with weak jokes and the latest big sci-fi/war/historical/action flick that has nothing but meaningless deaths. There's no unspoken agendas, no secrets to look for, no characters to feel empathy for ... no nothing.

I realize I'm talking a lot about modern film here when I'm supposed to be talking about the modern novel, but again, that's because I feel the publishing industry has gone Hollywood to a large extent.

And let me add, I'm not saying all modern novels are bad. I am definitely not saying all modern novels I've read recently are bad. I'm just saying I wish they had a bit more substance to them.

Maybe I expect too much. I realize someone who reads as much as myself can't expect every book to take me to nirvana.


I say that because I believe a lot of writers have fallen into formula writing, much like screenwriting (which I do have some experience with). You have your beginning, middle and end. You have your protagonist. You have your antagonist. The beginning: the protagonist has a problem. The middle: the protagonist tries in various ways to solve his or her problem but runs into trouble against the antagonist. The end: The protagonist usually finds a way to solve the problem, though sometimes they fail.

I like screenwriting. I enjoy it. It has taught me a lot and it brought me out of my writer's block a few years ago.

But again, does every single friggin' new novel have to read like it's a screenplay?

Far too many publishers are seeking material that's like a screenplay, in my opinion. Heck, if you look around at enough publishers' Web sites, a number of them even come right out and say it.

They want no exposition. Lots of action. Action-oriented dialgoue. Little-to-no description. Fast. Fast. Fast. Keep the reader going, going, going.

Shit. Ed McBain's the only writer I know who can pull that off. And he did it well.

We as writers should expect more of ourselves, our publishers and our readers. We also owe more to ourselves and to our publishers and our readers.

I hate to sound all artistic, and I don't mean to. And, I'll admit, this blog post actually sounds stronger than I normally feel about this topic.

But, come on. All I see on the bookshelves at stores are rip-offs of Harry Potter (a seven-book series about a new mystery in each book) or "The DaVinci Code" (definitely a mystery).

You other writers out there: Give me more. Give me better. As a reader I deserve it and want it. As a writer, I'm going to start expecting it.

To speak in film terms again, I'm tired of nothing but VanDamm and Adam Sandler
flicks. I'm ready for some Coppola movies.


cyn said...

novel writing is def being influenced by films. i mean, look how we write "scenes" and have to have a "hook". it's all movie talk. maybe our attention span can only deal with superficial soundbites these days?

i didn't write my novel with themes in mind, but they are there now as a final product. which is pretty nifty.

what are the themes in your trilogy?

Howard von Darkmoor said...

I think, at times, your search for theme may be too obsessive, Ty. I don't mind themes, even see the need for themes - in some places, sometimes.
I was one of those guys - still am, as a matter of fact - who hated it (with a passion, I might add) when teachers questioned the 'theme' or 'meaning' of a work, both poetic and prose. I hated the words "What do you think the author meant when he wrote . . . "! Who the fuck cares!?! How about asking me how I feel right now, what I think it means? And you know what?! Why can't a story or a poem mean what it says? What super-smart asshole somewhere in time determined we had to decipher what every author 'meant' when he wrote anything?! Why cannot a word mean what it is, a tale or a poem mean nothing more than what we see and read? Huh?!
This probably reads a little stronger than it should - but it's 3:30 am and I'm tired and I just watched Mr. Brooks and think it should have ended with Costner dying across his daughter's bed rather than only dreaming about it.

:) See you all in the morning!

Ty said...

Don't take anything I post here tooooo seriously. Most of it's just ramblings in the middle of the night.

After thinking upon it, though, I'm not sure "theme" is the right word I should have used, maybe something like "emotional resonance."

Honestly, I wouldn't want any teacher or Cliff Notes or anybody else telling students what the themes are to my stories. Let them draw their own conclusions from my tales. I generally know what themes I see in my fiction, but I don't expect others to take away the same thing.

And I think one of the reasons I hate Charles Dickens is because I had his "themes" shoved down my throat in junior and high school.

BUT, I still believe themes (or "emotional resonance" or whatever) are a big part of what makes a story. If that's not there, there's not story. I think the author has to be aware of the themes he sees in his own work. If he or she doesn't see any, then there's some rewriting needing done.

Ty said...

As for themes in my trilogy, I see the following:

The vanity and futility of vengeance and righteous anger.

The idea or feeling that one doesn't have to have a great big, huge destiny to make a difference in the world. Little things, but still important, can be accomplished by great people on a smaller scale.

Love isn't always enough, and you can't necessarily change the one you love into someone else. And if you could, would you still love them? Or, at least, would you still want to be around them?

There are others, minor ones, but those three are the main ones I see, especially that first one.

cyn said...

those are some great themes, ty. and whatever one chooses to call it, a book that resonates for the reader is so important. that's why i struggled so much with the ending. and i'm not even sure i got it right.