Is It that Time Already?

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My picture from our trip to Cleveland. My heroine, Susan, lives in the apartment above these stores in Little Italy.

So, we’re less than a week away from the start of Camp NaNoWriMo, and everything is sneaking up on me. I’m still not entirely sure what exactly I’ll be doing. I’ll definitely put some time in on the contemporary novel I started for J’s birthday, The Sorrow Thereof, and I might get back to the latest Oleg Omdahl. Whether or not there is a fanfic component of this Camp will probably depend on whether or not a friend I’ve decided to co-write a story with wants to get started on it in July. (Co-writing with someone other than J should be an interesting experience! I’ll report back.)

But while I’m here, it just dawned on me that I haven’t really said anything about The Sorrow Thereof. Perhaps I should quickly. It focuses on a single character, Susan, trying to put her life back together after her divorce from the husband she loves quite a lot, Randel. The story focuses on her attempt to become a better person and live with the guilt of her past, and just maybe, find a little happiness at the end of the day. I don’t know. Crappy elevator pitch, but it’s what I’ve got for now. On the bright side, I should be able to start adding more great details to her life. As I mentioned about a month back, part of the story takes place in Cleveland, but the rest of it is set in Chapel Hill. Our dear friend who currently lives in Chapel Hill is going to be visiting soon, and I can’t wait to harass her endlessly with questions.

And other than that, I’m just trying to figure out where my weekend went. And finish up Gone with the Wind, which we really might have to write a goodly amount about at some point. At any rate, we will pop in when we can with Camp updates.

~S

Just Deserts

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It felt good for us, too, Hermione.

The other day, as we so often do, S and I were talking about stories and storytelling.  I think we were making supper, and I was chopping up vegetables for salads at the time.  This isn’t necessarily a good time for deep conversation, since I’m using a sharp object near my own fingers, and a certain amount of concentration is recommended.  But on this particular occasion, she said something quite intriguing that made me stop to think, halfway through slicing a radish.

She mentioned seeing people on Twitter and Tumblr who feel that certain characters on TV “deserved better” than they got.  And she said that this was starting to annoy her.

Now, personally this had never annoyed me before, but then I don’t spend much (or really, any) time on Twitter and Tumblr, so I haven’t seen these kinds of complaints.  So then I gave it some thought, in the middle of this radish, and I realized that when people talk about what a character “deserves,” they’re really talking about one of several different things: 1) personal identification, 2) apparent moral rectitude, or 3) the narrative promises made by the author.  And as S and I discussed this, we agreed that whether a complaint about a characters “just deserts” seems legitimate depends on which of the three it is.

Personal Identification
This is the simplest, but, I’m sorry, also the silliest kind.  The reader likes and identifies with Susan, and then something bad happens to her.  Her boyfriend dumps her, she loses her job, her car breaks down, and she has to wait for the bus in the rain.  Now the reader is mad, or sad, or disgruntled, and wishes things had worked out better for Susan, and the reader says, “Susan deserved better!”

As an author—even an amateur one—I have to say that this sort of complaint leaves me scratching my head, because making the reader identify with the character and care what happens to her is, in fact, one of the main goals of storytelling.  A story where only good things ever happen to a character is incredibly dull.  I mean, even in Ferris Bueller’s Day Off—a movie about a kid for whom everything always works out—Ferris faces setbacks.  So from the writer’s perspective, this sort of complaint is tantamount to the reader saying, “Susan is so dear to me that I never want a story to happen to her!”

This is closely related to the complaint where viewers or readers say, “I just want (character name) to be happy!”  One of our best friends used to point out, in the context of daytime soaps, that if a character was ever happy, then that basically meant that the character’s storyline would be over.  So, in fact, wishing for a character to be “happy” was wishing for that character to disappear from the show and for the actress playing her to be fired.

The Character’s Morals
“The good ended happily, and the bad unhappily. That is what Fiction means.”  As Miss Prism from The Importance of Being Earnest reminds us, part of why people read fiction is for a sense of closure and rightness that real life sometimes lacks.  We want to see good things happen to good people and bad things happen to bad people.  We want to see plucky little Oliver Twist succeed.  We love it when Hermione punches Draco Malfoy right in his sneering face.

Some people might find this to be a simplistic way of looking at literature, but I have some sympathy for it.  At the very least, I’d say it’s a perfectly reasonable expectation for a reader to have.  If someone said to me, “I prefer the original Star Wars to Empire Strikes Back because the story is better-written,” or “because the characters are more complex,” or “because the special effects are superior,” I would have to look at that person askance.  But if the person said, “I just prefer stories where the good guys win in the end,” then I would have to say, “Fair enough.”

Narrative Promises
I’ve mentioned the “Covenant of the Arc” before—it’s Blake Snyder’s storytelling “law” that says that every character must change.  It’s an implied promise by the author that when he introduces a character, the reader can be assured that something interesting is going to happen with this person.  When we open up The Lord of the Rings for the first time, in other words, and we start reading about Hobbits and the Shire, Tolkien is implicitly telling us something.  He’s saying, “Yes, I realize these little creatures seem a bit silly and dull right now, but trust me, if you stick around, you’ll see them do something awesome.”  That’s the “Covenant of the Arc.”

As with all promises, though, there’s a danger that at the end the recipient might not feel that the promisor has delivered.  “You promised me this character would matter,” the reader might say, after reading George R. R. Martin’s infamous “Red Wedding.”  “You made me sit through page after page with Robb Stark, and then it turns out I might as well not have bothered.”

Of all three kinds of complaints we’ve discussed, I find this one the most interesting and, frankly, the most legitimate.  The first two really just amount to the reader saying, “That’s not how I wanted it to happen.”  This third one, though, is the reader saying, “You didn’t finish the job.  You promised me this was going somewhere, and then it didn’t.”  The author has, therefore, committed the cardinal sin of all storytellers: wasting the time of his audience.

And so as not to waste anymore of my own audience’s time, I’ll leave it there for today.  Perhaps S will have further thoughts on this later.  Or perhaps she’ll give an update on the story she started writing as my birthday present (which I have now seen and which is wonderful).  As for me, I’m doing my prep work for my July Camp NaNo novel, and maybe next week sometime I’ll talk about that.

In the meantime, however, I’ve got things to do.  Like slicing radishes.

J

It’s Just Like In…

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Vivien Leigh as Scarlett O’Hara in Gone with the Wind (snerched from Pinterest)

Is it Sunday already? Where did the week go? Anyhow, J and I are both busy working on projects—I’m furiously drafting his birthday novel, and he is doing his prep work for his July Camp NaNoWriMo book. We’re also reading Gone with the Wind for my book club, and it has reminded us how influential Margaret Mitchell’s work has been on several of our novels and just how often we mention it. This started us thinking about what stories we always end up talking about, and we came up with the following list.

10 Stories We Reference Most

Amelia Peabody Mysteries, Elizabeth Peters
Anna Karenina, Leo Tolstoy
Emma, Jane Austen
Gone with the Wind, Margaret Mitchell
Harry Potter, JK Rowling (and the movies)
Horatio Hornblower, CS Forester (and the TV series)
Jeeves and Wooster, PG Wodehouse
Lord of the Rings, JRR Tolkien (and the movies)
Song of Ice and Fire, George RR Martin (and the Game of Thrones TV series)
Star Wars, (all of the movies)

As we have time, we might start picking these apart here on the blog. In the meantime, we’re keeping our noses to the grindstone.

~S

Square Pegs in Round Holes

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My silly edit of Maimie McCoy as Milady de Winter on the BBC show The Musketeers.

I want to continue the thought J started in his post Everyone’s a Critic, using The Musketeers Season 3 and the debates over how to discuss it to do so. (It’s pretty much been eating my brain for over a month now, so I might as well, right?) So, be warned, spoilers for the entire series of The Musketeers, although if you’ve never seen a second of the show, I hope to explain my objections well enough my arguments should still make more sense than not.

Story Arc

In his post, J talked about how one aspect of fiction it’s not particularly worthwhile criticizing is premise. You don’t like Outlander because you think there’s too much violence against women, make that argument all day. Don’t like it because there’s time travel, well, time travel is the point. I enjoy the premise of The Musketeers (whether it be the BBC show, Dumas, or any other iteration) of four swashbuckling dudes running around early 17th Century France swashbuckling. But what I object to in Season 3 is what I’m going to call story arc.

Season 3 opens during the Thirty Years War, which has caused a refugee crisis in Paris. One of the main story arcs for the season revolves around a refugee, Sylvie, who is a part of a band of revolutionaries living in a Paris refugee settlement. It’s a story and setting that feels like a cross between the nightly news (refugees) and something out of Les Miserables (revolutionaries in France). What it never feels like to me is a story arc that belongs in a show whose premise is swashbuckling Musketeers swashbuckling around France in the 17th Century.

All of my problems with Season 3 stem from this ill-begotten story arc. I could catalog those problems, but that’s not actually the purpose of this post. (Perhaps another time.) My purpose here is to examine the proper outlet on social media for my feelings of disappointment, and what sort of reaction from other fans I should expect.

If you didn’t like it, why are you talking about it?

This has long been a complaint of people who love a show/book/movie who grow tired of listening to people criticize the thing they love. And I get that. There is a substantial chunk of The Musketeers fandom who have serious problems with the Aramis/Queen Anne/Dauphin Season 2 story arc, and while I never got terribly upset with the people who vented their displeasure with the season, I also never especially liked reading what they had to say on social media. I read several detailed complaints early on when I first joined the fandom, decided I disagreed with those people, and then went on my merry way.

But here’s the thing: if you love a thing so much you join a fandom specifically in order to discuss it, you don’t suddenly want to stop discussing the thing you love when it takes a turn you dislike. The passion hasn’t left. The need to discuss and maintain connections to the people you’ve bonded with hasn’t suddenly disappeared.

This is akin to the “Why don’t you stop watching it if you don’t like it?” argument. I stop watching things all the time. And the things I care so little about that I just quit tuning in every week are the shows I never cared enough about to join a fandom for. I stopped watching Arrow and Flash and Once Upon a Time and Castle. I enjoyed them. Mentioned them occasionally to friends who also watched them. Never joined their fandoms though, because I never loved them enough. That’s why I could quit them without comment. The passion was never there to begin with.

@CreatorPerson

Lo, many years ago, I majored in English in college. I now write fiction in my spare time. I like thinking about narrative and how it works, and like a doctor dissecting a cadaver, I dissect stories as a learning experience. And because, dammit, I find it enjoyable. I want to understand why Emma Woodhouse is so amazing, and I want to know why I just can’t connect to Middlemarch even though I admire it. I’ve often said that I’ve enjoyed discussing Harry Potter more than I have enjoyed reading the books or watching the movies, and there’s a lot I like (and dislike) about that series.

Picking apart narrative is in my blood. Apparently, there are people without that particular gene. I hope one day we learn to leave peaceably, because we will never understand one another.

So, if I’m going to insist upon raging about fiction I once loved but now find heartbreakingly disappointing, how should I go about it? First off, I would never in a million years tag a creator (writer, director, actor, key grip) with my negative criticism. That’s just tacky. Yes, I know they could wander into my corner of the fandom and find what I have said, but it seems to me that if you are an artist and you go picking through social media, you have to take some responsibility for what you see there. Never saying a bad word about an artistic endeavor again because someone associated with it might possibly see it is a good way to end useful conversation about art.

Also, I’ve grown up in the years I’ve spent online. It’s been over a decade since I joined my first online fandom (I still talk to Browncoats every day), and I no longer go out of my way to find people who love all four seasons of Battlestar Galactica just so I can tell them why they’re wrong. (Forum culture 10 years ago was really something! You kids don’t know what mean is. #GetOffMyLawn) There are lots of fans who have enjoyed Season 3 of The Musketeers. And you know what? I’m happy for them! I’m glad the thing they love was something they could love all the way to the end. But I can’t love it, and it’s therapeutic for me and others who are disappointed with the season to discuss it with each other.

And I won’t apologize for that. I won’t say I’m sorry for watching all the way to the end or for airing my views after I watched it. I won’t pretend as though I think I was wrong to write satire fanfics that address some of my problems with Season 3. My disappointment is valid, and my need to discuss it with others who feel the same is also valid. Otherwise, why bother joining a fandom if not to find like souls?

~S

Everyone’s a Critic

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You don’t even want to know what these guys thought of Season 3.

S has just finished up her rewatch of the third and final season of The Musketeers, and I imagine she will have some thoughts to share on that subject sooner or later. She has certainly had a good time ranting about it on Tumblr, so some of you may already be familiar with her complaints.

Thinking about that third season, though, and about its many problems, has led us to think a little about what kind of complaints a fan is allowed to make. Friends sent us links to this article and this one about the problem of fans having a sense of entitlement, and we read those and thought about them a bit.

Both of those are interesting, and definitely worth a read, though it seems to me that both authors are really complaining about and conflating several different problems. For one thing, they talk about writers and other content producers getting death threats from fans, and I think we can all agree that death threats are never appropriate. So I don’t know that we need to spend much time discussing that. We can just state it right here: death threats are bad, and you shouldn’t make them.

Beyond that, though, the authors of both blog posts object to “the entitlement of modern fan culture.” As Devin Faraci, the author at that first link, memorably puts it, “These fans are treating stories like ordering at a restaurant – hold the pickles, please, and can I substitute kale for the lettuce? But that isn’t how art works, and that shouldn’t be how art lovers react to art. They shouldn’t be bringing a bucket of paint to the museum to take out some of the blue from those Picassos, you know?”

That’s a good point, and a funny line, but I have two problems with this. First, fans of contemporary TV and movies behave like consumers because they are, in fact, consumers. They are paying for at least a small part of what they watch through viewing advertising and buying tickets and purchasing special director’s cut Blu-rays and limited edition action figures.

Yes, repainting a Picasso in a museum would be awful, but it would be entirely different if someone looking to buy a painting back when the artist was alive had said, “Could you paint me something with a bit less blue in it?” Picasso could agree to do it, or he could tell the prospective buyer to take a hike. But I don’t think the request itself would have been illegitimate. And that’s basically the equivalent of someone today posting online about how, “Next season, I want Athos and Milady to end up together,” or about how, “I want Elsa to have a girlfriend in Frozen 2.”

My second problem is that it would be a bit rich of writers and producers to complain about this attitude from fans, when the growing enthusiasm for remakes and reboots practically encourages it. Why shouldn’t fans ask (or even demand) that Idris Elba be cast as the next James Bond? After all, we know there will be a new iteration of the character sooner or later, and another one after that. And if past is prologue, then we know that everyone in the James Bond ‘verse will pretend like the change never happened and that this new guy has been James Bond all along. Changing the character’s race or gender or sexuality can’t hurt the continuity of the series, since the filmmakers have blown up that continuity half a dozen times already. And the same applies with other series. Why shouldn’t fans be allowed to say, “Next time they make a Batman vs. Superman movie, I hope they do X, Y, and Z,” since everyone knows that someday, sooner or later, such a film will almost certainly be made?

Now that we’ve got that out of the way, what kind of objections are actually out of bounds? S and I may write more on this subject at some, point, but I think one of the more problematic kinds of fan complaints is objecting to the premise after the fact.

When S and I were discussing this, one of the first examples we thought of was Outlander. Neither of us really likes time travel stories. So we just couldn’t get into reading the novels or watching the show. But the thing is, time travel is the actual premise of the story. If you think time travel stories are ridiculous, you will probably find Outlander ridiculous. And that’s okay, I think. But in my opinion, you can only really make that complaint at the outset. You can’t get halfway through the first season and say, “You know, I just can’t buy the notion of a 20th century woman being in 18th century Scotland.” Sorry, but that ship has already sailed. To use an athletic analogy, it would be like saying that you don’t think LeBron James is a particularly skilled athlete because he doesn’t kick the ball enough. Your objection isn’t actually to the skills of LeBron, but to the very concept of basketball. Or, to borrow Devin Faraci’s analogy of a diner in a restaurant, it’s like seeing liver on the menu, ordering the liver, getting it, starting to eat it and only then saying, “This is disgusting! I’ve always hated liver!” That’s fine, but then why did you order it?

By the way, I think there’s a flip side to this: people who have objections to the premise at the outset have a right to have those objections taken seriously. If I see liver on the menu, I shouldn’t be made to order it. I shouldn’t have the waiter and my dining companions haranguing me to try it because, “This liver is totally different.” So if I decide, based on a brief Goodreads review, that I don’t particularly want to read another time travel story, or if someone decides—based only on watching the trailer—that he doesn’t want to go to the new Ghostbusters movie, then that’s perfectly fine. The perennial counter-complaint, “Oh, but you should give it a chance,” rings a bit hollow; I can see the liver, right there on the menu, and I know I don’t like liver. Don’t try to make me order it.

That’s it for now, but we’ll return to this topic later, when S talks about her objections to Season 3 of The Musketeers, and more generally, why she thinks certain kinds of fan objections are legitimate and should be taken seriously.

J