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Apr
15
2018

Character versus Characters -- by Jon Goff

I remember someone telling me how wonderful the Battlestar Galactica reboot was, and that I would really enjoy it. I trudged through it and after several weeks emerged feeling bruised and battered. There wasn't one single character for whom I felt empathy, admiration, or even a liking.  The "heroes" were no better than the villains. I don't know if that was supposed to be the message, but the series left me feeling depressed and emotionally exhausted, and not in a good way. I've read books where I've been taken up and down on an emotional roller coaster of triumph and despair, and feel exhausted, but good at the end of the book.  

I remember reading Flowers for Algernon years ago and feeling a sense of loss and emotional trauma at the story's ending, but it was, after all was said and done, a truly inspirational and moving story about the human spirit's indomitability. Last night I tuned into Jeffery Donovan's new series, Shut Eye, about the dark underworld of psychics and the organized crime families that run many of these shops. There is not one single character with a shred of moral integrity. They are all vile, disgusting people who I can't come to care about. In short, there are no heroes.


This seems to be a growing trend, the writing of deeply, tragically broken, not flawed or imperfect, but mentally damaged people set as protagonists. The most popular one in recent memory would be Brian Cranston's Walter White in Breaking Bad. There is, of course Dexter, the serial killer with a conscience, if it can be called such.  I don't understand the appeal of these kinds of characters and stories. When I first decided to be a writer, I wanted to write things that uplifted people, that made people want to be more than they were.

Shakespeare certainly had his share of deeply flawed characters. Macbeth comes to mind, but he also had noble characters who inspired us to greatness. Cervantes' Don Quixote is about a character who is delusional, but in his delusion, he is also inspirational. All of Jack London's books inspire, and while I am not a fan of Hemingway's style, his books also uplift and make us wish to be better than we are.

I am bothered, to some extent, when I hear or see writers talk about "being true" to their characters. These characters are not real people, they are the constructs of the author. I do know that sometimes characters can take on a life of their own, but they are still the author's constructs, they are not writing the story.  There is no one other than yourself to be true to. Characters don't have to swear because that's what they would do in real life, by its very definition, fiction is NOT real life.

I am old enough to remember a time when people did not swear in real life, they conducted themselves with manners and civility and moderated their speech in public. I have no doubt that behind closed doors, there were moments of profanity and swearing, but in public people behaved better. And I think there is a correlation between our entertainment and the coarsening of our language. No one spoke like we hear people speak in movies and books today, but we popularized it by writing "real characters" who spoke the way we imagined people spoke, and people, seeing it in movies and books, voiced by sympathetic characters found themselves repeating clever phrases, which then writers began to hear more of, and thought, oh, this is "real."  So, they write "real" dialogue that isn't real at all, but a reflection of the imagined dialogue people found in their entertainment.

There is a reciprocity to the effect. Language in movies, song, and literature coarsens itself to be "edgy" and "real" which in turn coarsens the language in real life, which then affects literature. Which came first, the coarsening of real speech, or the coarsening of written dialogue is impossible to say, but the two feed off of each other, and I do hold writers responsible in part. We are creating dialogue that can find its way into every day speech.

Each writer must choose themselves what they want their writing to accomplish. Are you writing simply to titillate or shock? Are you writing to make people question their preconceptions? Are you writing to be edgy and push the boundaries? What is it you're trying to accomplish? I submit that you can write in a way that is titillating, shocking, pushes the boundaries, and challenges people's preconceptions all without resorting to vulgarism and profanity, obscenity and coarseness.

Regardless, I perceive a coarsening, and consequently a lessening in artistry in much of what is being written today. And I have to ask myself, what do I want my books to do? Well, the answer has been with me since I first started writing at 15. I want my books to be something people won't have to worry about being crass or vulgar. Entertaining without resorting to adolescent titillation and exploitation of sex.

Sex is a part of human beings, but at the heart of it, it isn't the sum of human relationships. The deepest, most profound relationships are not centered in the act of sex but are rather the end result of sex. Family, husband and wife, lovers who are connected beyond mere physical congress. These dynamics are far more compelling and long lasting than any tawdry sex scene in a movie or book. We don't remember those, but the deeper connections that are more meaningful because of shared experiences, pain, suffering, loss and triumph. We don't remember Romeo and Juliet for their sex scene (from the countless movies - Shakespeare was more discrete), but their impassioned devotion to one another, and the tragic death of the young lovers. Their suffering, their passion, the tragedy of it all, these are the things that have remained indelibly imprinted on the minds of millions for centuries.

What is being written now that might endure decades, let alone centuries? Well, let's look at some of the movies and books that have endured:

  • Lord of the Rings
  • Harry Potter
  • Star Wars
  • Pretty much every Disney princess movie ever made

In fact, of the top 100 biggest movies of the last 50 years, there is one R rated movie. One. That means no gratuitous sex scenes, no obscene or vulgar language, and no excessive violence.  And these are also some of the most beloved movies. The point is this, these movies are made under extreme censorship from the studios because they want the biggest draw, so they restrict what they'll allow, and this self-censoring has produced not only some of the biggest grossing movies of all time, but some of the most memorable, endearing, and generation spanning stories ever told. These are movies that we love to quote, and are sometimes imbued with wisdom that make us, if even for a moment, want to be more than we are.

They inspire.

So, rather than being true to your characters, or letting them "write themselves," consider for a moment what you want your books to accomplish in the lives of the people who read them and stay true to that.

Posted by Jon Goff 15 Apr at 00:36
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Responses to this blog

Lynkel 15 Apr at 04:35  
Hi, Jon
I love your question: What you want your books to accomplish in the lives of the people who read them?
I regarded myself as wanting to stay true to my characters, but your blog makes me realise that actually I strive to stay true to myself in terms of who I am and what I believe in.
I want my Junior Fiction pony series to take readers on a journey (across five eBooks) where they see how people have obscure depths. I want them to be less judgmental, more compassionate, and to look for the deeper person. And to enjoy stories with lots of threads.
In my adult work of fiction, I want my story to put across what life has taught me: that truth and integrity are essential and that lies and deceit will never really work.
Thanks for the read
Lyn
Rellrod 16 Apr at 10:12  
Jon — Excellent, excellent points. I bookmarked the essay at once for my "writing notes" file.

I agree about the characters that lack character. I just don't have any interest in an array of characters, none of whom I can respect or like. Why should I care what happens to a bunch of (fictional) people who I'd rather never existed in the first place?

We do have to think about, not only about whether we're creating something artistically accomplished, but also about what effect it'll have on the people who read it. I don't want to write something that will make readers worse off. (There are a couple stories I've read that are technically very accomplished — and should never have been written.) And adding to the torrent of disgust, frustration and incivility we're experiencing is not likely to have a positive effect on readers. Or, for that matter, on the author.

I agree that we can startle and shock, question preconceptions, warn and encourage, without resorting to excesses in language or imagery. Some of the best effects I've seen have been the most subtly achieved.

Rick


Rellrod 16 Apr at 10:13  
(Aak! Excuse the miswordings and errors in the above! I thought I'd get a "preview" chance to clean it up before posting. Oh, well.)

Rick
Paulpowell 16 Apr at 12:37  
One of the better blog posts I've seen on CC blog. Paul Powell, the rhinocerous who agrees with no one, surprisingly finds himself in agreement with this insightful bit of rumination. Its both articulate and thoughtful.
Paulpowell 16 Apr at 13:06  
The remarks about television's "trendy flawed heroes" is apt. On TV these days, you could probably insert Reinhard Heydrich as a protagonist and viewers just wouldn't give a darn. The gaze induced by television is too insidious, too judgment-strangling. Amorality floats on a river of laziness; no contemporary American would even consider for a moment rising up off their sofa and turning OFF the TV.
__________________
Paul Powell, Pool Player

Bentletter 16 Apr at 19:57  
I'm going to have to disagree. I don't watch horror movies and then go out and reciprocate acts of killing that I witness on screen. I didn't learn curse words and edgier language from movies or books, or art in general, I learned them from real life people.

Art steering the psychology of humans? Not even close. It's the other way around; psychology steers art. If you want proof of psychology steering art, go back and look at the days of the black plague and see what passed for art then.

Take a look around, it is increasingly difficult to tell good guys from bad guys. Who are the good guys in the religious vs. lbgt conflict? Back in the good old days that you speak of, the good guys touted the bible and homosexuals were sinners. Plain and simple, cut and dry. Not so cut and dry these days.

Maybe art that challenges our notions of who is good and who is bad is exactly what the doctor ordered. Maybe a little mud in the face that challenges our notions of dogmatic thinking is better suited to reflect the changing realities of the world around us today. Maybe anything less than that is to settle for stagnation.

I'm not saying that you don't have a point. Personally, I love a good uplifting movie or book, nothing wrong with that. And don't get me wrong, I am not defending anybody's art, but on the other hand, I'm not holding anybody's art responsible for the way people act. That's up to the individual.
Paulpowell 16 Apr at 20:46  
Bentletter
I'm going to have to disagree. I didn't learn curse words and edgier language from movies or books, or art in general, I learned them from real life people.
Well. I like your spirited reply (whether it was to me, or to the OP). Give me a firm perspective like this, any day. You're certainly forthright in your beliefs. I applaud this.

So my first answer is merely a reminder: citing yourself or your own personal development, (your lack of criminal record, etc) ...this isn't really an argument as to what happens to millions of other citizens.

Bentletter
I don't watch horror movies and then go out and reciprocate acts of killing that I witness on screen.
Glad to hear it.

However, would you admit that even an intermittent diet of visual violence from a young age, may have desensitized you to violence? Would you allow that it has desensitized others?

Bentletter
Art steering the psychology of humans? Not even close.
I myself can hardly think of a source for this opinion but if you have one, I'd sure like to know it. Can you remember any place in particular where you ever heard this?

At most, you might be ok suggesting that psychology steers artists. But not audiences. Merely the fact that people have individual qualia and subjectivity can't be stretched to say that their psychology 'determines what they see'.

The consistent way in which reactions are reported annuls such a notion. Psychological tests and optical tests, color theory and composition theory; gestalt theory, Kuleshov's experiments...all reinforce the shared commonality of audience reaction before any psychology might even come into play.

In sum, we are more alike in our response to art than we are different. Whatever 'we bring to a museum' isn't enough to shift the blame for the reaction back onto the viewer over what is viewed.

Bentletter
If you want proof of psychology steering art, go back and look at the days of the black plague and see what passed for art then.

What 'passed for' art?

Are you perhaps thinking of the trend in paintings known as the 'dance of death' and that kind of thing? Heironymous Bosch, etc? Not indicative of the whole scope of arts at the time. That was just one style of painting. The medieval era is one of the most glorious in western civilization. The age of the atelier crafts system. Cathedral building, gothic architecture, illuminated manuscripts; textiles, horology, lithography, typography, woodcuts, cartography.

I neednt even mention poetry, philosophy or metaphysical thought. The 12th century is even sometimes called a 'northern renaissance' (preceding that which later took place in Italy). At the same time there were death's-heads, there were fabulous gold altar pieces and ornate carpentry found in church naves; the luminous paintings of Giotto, etc.

Bentletter
Take a look around, it is increasingly difficult to tell good guys from bad guys.
Contemporary popular culture has a lot of superficial trends. Everyone from Darth Vader on down, captures the attention of popcorn-chomping simpletons as a 'real' villain. Still, all this 3-ring circus & phantasmogoria is not to say that we can't continue to turn back to our intellectual heritage for a yardstick anymore, for what is deeply right or deeply wrong. Nichomachean Ethics, for example, or Jeremy Bentham, or Immanual Kant, if nobody else.

Bentletter
...but on the other hand, I'm not holding anybody's art responsible for the way people act. That's up to the individual.
It's pretty well documented that visual media has the power to influence human behavior to an inordinate degree above their own powers of judgment, skepticism, and critical thinking. Think about the powers of persuasion a professional magician can wield over an audience in Vegas. Or a good sidewalk con man. Or how about the well-known power of political propaganda? Even the most innocuous television commercial can do anything all these can do, and more.

Just my 2 cents. Enjoyable discussion.
__________________
Paul Powell, Pool Player

Jole 17 Apr at 02:31  
i'm only on my first cup of coffee, so forgive me if i'm missing anything in the conversation. just want to say thanks for sharing the blog post. i love swearing in real life and for many reasons (no seriously, there are many reasons for swearing); but actually i don't like it in performance art or fiction. i find it cheap and unintelligent, especially in comedy. if you can tell a laugh-out-loud joke and not resort to swearing, that takes a lot more skill and smarts, imho. that said, swearing isn't really used that much in fiction anyway, is it? am i just reading the wrong genre? i don't think it's used because it doesn't have the same effect; you can't 'suddenly shock' someone with a swear word when it's written down.

regarding whether art or fiction influences behaviour, yeah no, i don't think it 'changes' behaviour, but it does normalise it. meaning, if you're already a violent person and you see violence in movies or fiction, you may subconsciously start thinking it's normal; you're not the only one, lots of people do it. same with swearing, cheating on your spouse, drug use or whatever.

i'm in law school and i was just reading this case where this teenager who was 'addicted' to cannabis, played some violent video game and then went out and killed his neighbour. not saying this is common, just saying if you already have problems and you indulge said problems in entertainment or art it probably doesn't help.
Random47 17 Apr at 09:53  
Hi Jon:
Excellent article. I disagree with almost everything you say, but I respect the viewpoint. I'm perhaps at the opposite end of the reader spectrum. I like to read stories about anti-heroes and villains. No one wants to read the parts of Paradise Lost when Satan isn't present.
You can have your Luke Skywalker — the goody good adventurer who needs a cause. I'm a Han Solo guy — the criminal who accepts a cause after being convinced. I need to be convinced. The world is a terrible horrible no-good very bad wonderful place. People are horrible to one another, to other life forms, and the environment. People excuse their actions with policies and ideologies and religions and syntax rules. People swear every other word. Your point is well-made but it reads like the WASPy patriarchs who complain that homosexuality was fine when men had the decency not to hold hands in public.
And it's always a surprise when terrible things happen. You say "I am old enough to remember a time when people did not swear in real life," which is utter bullshit. You remember that experience as being a part of YOUR life. I'm old enough to remember when publicly saying "Damn" was worth a Buckley column on the decline of Western Civilization. And I can report that swearing out of the earshot of self-righteous social engineers is as much a part of the American experience as a malfunctioning automobile.
Random47 17 Apr at 10:04  
Hmm. Got cut off there on my rant. There is too much, I'll sum up:
Don Quixote was an anti-Catholic screed about getting too inspired by book(s). Uplift is a byproduct of art more than an aim. I'm of the opinion that art should make you uncomfortable. It should point out rather than glorify. And that goes for both the good and the bad. I mean, are you seriously arguing that Disnified fairy tales are superior to the originals because they're more pleasant?
Jongoff 17 Apr at 12:45  
Not because they are more pleasant but because they inspire, they uplift. There is enough ugliness in the world I. See no reason to make more, let alone celebrate, glorify, or humanize it
Bentletter 17 Apr at 12:59  
To Paul Powell, pool player. I am humbled by your worldliness and education. I'm a simple man. So, I'll keep it simple.

Your personal tastes about today's trends in portraying heroes and villains aside, how do you really feel about the underlying question posed by the article.

Do you agree that all writers should aspire to right only pg-rated stories so as not to corrupt the world with titillation, vulgarism, and the like?
Rellrod 17 Apr at 19:14  
Bent — I don't think that's exactly what the OP had in mind.
Paulpowell 17 Apr at 20:35  
Rather than my worldliness, I think I let my usual verboseness get out of hand; even slightly derailing the thread.

The OP has several subtle points I agree with but I don't know how to dovetail an account of how I concur with them all, (in anything but broad/clumsy strokes).

After all, inquiring into 'morality in art' is an enormous topic; one which has been discussed fruitlessly for centuries. Its a gigantic debate.

Moving the scope of that debate onto modern electronic media? Another massive watershed of opinions can only flood down on us.

So. What else does that leave. Profanity? Limiting myself then only to this:

In general, profanity is preposterously over-used and also mis-used in today's movie scripts. I put the blame on Quentin Tarantino for making unnecessary expletives 'stylish' and 'cool' when it is anything but. Its a cop-out for the lazy or the un-inventive writer.

Profanity is simply so redundant in everyday life that it weakens the power of any product containing too much of it. For, we already hear it all the time. It is thus, only padding; only 'dead weight'.

The shock value of it is gone; and ideally never should have been pursued in the first place by any writer or any director. Its just too easy to 'get it wrong'; or overdue it; or to over-rely on it as a prop. You need to use vulgarity judiciously to be effective.

The OP is correct (I feel) when he reminds us that fiction is not responsible for scientifically accurate representations of daily life. He's basically reiterating the well-known truism that "film is realistic but not real". It is 'heightened' reality. It is a distillation.

This is eminently correct. Theatrical products are not scientifically photographed or sound-recorded and it is not their onus to bear some agenda of 'transforming language, by example'. Nor should it over-conform to everyday language. These trends are outside its duties, (the first of which is to entertain us).

Remember, even if an audience is titillated at the sound of cuss-words one year, they may be jaded to it in another year. It's not the responsibility of cinema to reform slang or promote more slang in American media. In the same way, film is not ideal when it is censoring language. These are both ugly extremes.

Dialogue is always inherently false because it is acted. Now, as it unrolls to our ears; the actors can either pretend not to acknowledge their effort to be more natural, or they can admit that they are speaking slightly-modified-away-from-natural speech. This is the director's choice.

He may be seeking out a raw, gritty style for his production. That happens. But its dangerous. Traditionally the best dialog is dialog which is not noticed at all.

And so all this is what I add to what the OP stated; and I suggest that it all comes into play, long before any consideration of whether a movie is 'making us better citizens or not'.





__________________
Paul Powell, Pool Player

Jole 18 Apr at 03:57  
i feel like we're all talking about different things already, but i just want to add i don't understand where any anger comes from towards the author. he's writing from a point of view and he's allowed to have it, just like you're allowed to have yours. there is no one is better than the other, and it's not fair to say his memories are bullshit or inferior — their his memories. who knows where or when the author grew up. besides, all memories are flawed. it's human nature and a moot point; we're all guilty of it, whatever.

if we're talking about 'good' versus 'bad' characters, well personally, i never judge characters when i read: i always judge the writing, the difference might be that i'm conscious of it. also, when people say they like Breaking Bad or The Wire or anything to do with Shonda Rhimes, they're not talking about a list of character traits. character traits are worthless if the writing is poor. likewise, swear words are pointless, boring or irritating if you don't know how to use them.

i can't think of any 'good' characters right now, but i suspect they're worse people than we actually realise. and even though we like 'evil' characters, we still prefer a 'good' ending. justice always wins; i think it has to, otherwise we're left feeling unsatisfied or on a cliffhanger waiting for the justice part to happen. (but if anyone can think of a story where justice doesn't win, i'm certainly all ears.)
Bentletter 18 Apr at 12:09  
A pair of handcuffs is a pair of handcuffs. They restrict freedom. That's what handcuffs do.

The nature of the OP's argument is to ask other writer's to slap on a pair of handcuffs for "the good of the audience." Yet, beyond personal tastes and opinions, did the OP provide any factual evidence of someone being harmed by watching Breaking Bad or the Battlestar Galactica reboot?

I rest my case.
Paulpowell 18 Apr at 12:54  
Bentletter
A pair of handcuffs is a pair of handcuffs. They restrict freedom. That's what handcuffs do. The nature of the OP's argument is to ask other writer's to slap on a pair of handcuffs for "the good of the audience." Yet, beyond personal tastes and opinions, did the OP provide any factual evidence of someone being harmed by watching Breaking Bad or the Battlestar Galactica reboot? I rest my case.
Well if he did not do so, I reckon that it's because he didn't think he had to. But if that's what you insist on—yeah, I'd probably able to muster up some evidence. I follow the topic of modern-media fairly avidly.

But is it really warranted? As far as this thread is concerned, I can't quite feel (as you do) that it is a case which is decided either way by 'evidence'. So my data-gathering would be idle and half-hearted, were I to go about any.



And another thing, I suspect that whatever evidence might be scrounged together... you probably wouldn't agree with anyway. We'd either hear cries of "hey, that's way too small a sample size" or 'hey, your cause is not tied tightly enough to your effect'.

(these are both valid defences in many debates, by the way, and I have nothing against them per se)

But I mean here in this chat, if I dug up some criminal prosecution of a violent teen somewhere in Ohio somewhere, and it just so happens that the extenuating circumstance is that 'harmful effects of a particular television show or a particular computer game' was advanced by the defence counsel and this was accepted by the court as a valid legal defence?

Even if this has happened somewhere (remote possibility at best) you might just as well respond with 'well, that's just one case you found'.

On the other hand, if I drum up a slew of medical and university studies and lab results which scientifically do tie changes in human psychology to prolonged exposure to media violence, sure—but you might just as well respond with, 'okay but that's not conclusive, its all just done in a lab somewhere, show me a court case instead'.

So I repeat what I state above: it doesn't come down to evidence; it comes down to common sense, values, culture, history, and tradition. The OP was expressing his admiration for literature which 'improves'. Maybe he stated his preference in too-definite terms; but there's nothing wrong with his sentiment. This style of literature he praises, used to be longstanding normal practice.

Styles have changed; but he's not wrong for leaning the way he leans.

__________________
Paul Powell, Pool Player

Li1991 18 Apr at 13:13  
Paulpowell

On the other hand, if I drum up a slew of medical and university studies and lab results which scientifically do tie changes in human psychology to prolonged exposure to media violence, sure—but you might just as well respond with, 'okay but that's not conclusive, its all just done in a lab somewhere, show me a court case instead'.
Just FYI, the studies claiming violent video games cause violence have been challenged. The most modern research suggests that those already prone to violence are drawn to violence in media, but for a non-violent person, no amount of playing a violent video game will cause them to become violent.
__________________
Writer of YA fantasy because I never grew up. See my author page on Amazon here.

Paulpowell 18 Apr at 17:02  
Just FYI, the studies claiming violent video games cause violence have been challenged.
Maybe some studies have been challenged, that's normal and expected in academia. Peer-review makes better science when it occurs; what happens as a result of a challenge is that more studies are done and the case is even further solidified.

But I'm aware of quite a lot of evidence from numerous different quarters, from a wide variety of disciplines; and its of too long a standing to be brushed aside by one refutation.

Especially when—these days—'challenges' can often emerge from 'private think-tanks' or 'independent labs' which (when you trace their funding), suspiciously leads right back to the video gaming industry or the advertising industry itself.

It happens in every major controversy: smoking; climate-change. Follow the money. Not casting immediate aspersions on whatever report you saw, but chicanery does happen when big money is involved.

__________________
Paul Powell, Pool Player

Soulslayer 19 Apr at 11:23  
In my most humble opinion, I think what the world needs is a plague that gives everyone Tourette's Syndrome so we could out hypocrites who "never" swear. And of course we need an apocalyptic event that brings us back to a world free of books and media so that we could be perfect once more. No bad thoughts; no envy, no anger, no stealing, no slavery, no killing. Oh, to think how perfect the human race used to be when it was conservative and without antiheroes. Let's make the world great again! Just kidding. I like truth even when it makes me uncomfortable. Let's keep going in that direction and see that the real culprits are... ALL OF US—especially the ones who prefer delusions, lies and blaming the other guy who isn't like us.

Over and out.
Jongoff 19 Apr at 12:19  
Bentletter, what you are calling “handcuffs” I’m calling self restraint, and discipline. I am not advocating government censorship, which would be handcuffs, I am advocating exercising restraint and moderation. There is a difference.

It's clear that those who found my post disagreeable believe that human beings are flawed. That's something which I think we can all agree with, so my question is why then is it so offensive to challenge writers to inspire people to be better?

The blog post can be summed up in these words: I believe there is enough ugliness in the world already that I don’t feel the need to add to it.

All I am doing is challenging authors to write stories that inspire people to be better, and avoid celebrating the worst in human nature. Language can degrade and it can edify. I encourage us to strive for the latter, not the former.

I’m not sure why issuing a challenge to uplift people is an offensive thing.

Alla123 19 Apr at 13:01  
I so agree with the author of the article.
Paulpowell 19 Apr at 16:34  
Seems to me that at the end of it all, the blog author was simply stating his personal ambition to write a book similar to the very popular/wholesome, 'The Fault in Our Stars', or 'Me Talk Pretty One Day'.

These are titles which many families admire; they're stories with lessons to teach adolescents; and they maybe offer role-models to young people, too. There's only a few such books of this stripe these days, (even fewer which 'catch on' and become memorable, household-words).

Perhaps he didn't express his admiration well... but I didn't feel he was 'slighting' other styles of writing which pursue other, more casual, or more 'everyday' purposes.
__________________
Paul Powell, Pool Player

Bentletter 20 Apr at 00:09  
Inspire, uplift. I don't disagree with the idea or the message.

I disagree with you setting yourself up as the judge for what makes a story fit for an audience. The audience is the only judge a story needs. But somehow (spurred by your belief of your superior values?) you decided to step right in there, and on behalf of audiences everywhere, be the judge of what stories are fit for telling and which are not. In one word—ridiculous.

Challenging other people's fitness to write stories unless they behave in the manner you wish is the most arrogant challenge I can conceive of. Yet, somehow you do not expect to get challenged back? Please do not feign naive innocence here. You can't be that naive.
Jongoff 20 Apr at 00:39  
Where did I, at any point in the blog, say I was speaking for audiences everywhere? Where did I challenge anyone's fitness for writing? I expressed an opinion, nothing more. Bentletter, you're the one who chose, yes CHOSE to take offense. Offense can only be given where it's wanted, and you've taken considerable umbrage at one man's opinion. An opinion that you are free to ignore. Write whatever you want, read whatever you want.

I have no power to stop you, and even if I did, I wouldn't. I don't understand the animosity you bear me for holding an opinion with which you disagree. I never expected not to get challenged. I knew the post would not line up with everyone's views. What I did expect was civility in those challenges.
Bentletter 20 Apr at 00:52  
Sorry, if I ticked you off in any way. I'm not offended. I'm choosing to voice my opinion. There is plenty of room in the world for bad-boy stories like Breaking Bad and uplifting stories like The Fault in our Stars. That is my opinion, all of the day and all of the night.

Peace out.
Jongoff 20 Apr at 08:15  
After the exchanges of the last few days, today's quote on the front page is particularly apropos: "Deliver me from writers who say the way they live doesn't matter. I'm not sure a bad person can write a good book, If art doesn't make us better, then what on earth is it for?"
- Alice Walker
Paulpowell 20 Apr at 10:28  
Jongoff
After the exchanges of the last few days, today's quote on the front page is particularly apropos
I saw that too. Yup. Quite a coincidence. Of course the easy counterpoint is the famous, "ars gratis ars / art for art's sake" or the multifarious mottoes from the pop-art days of Andy Warhol and Roy Lichtenstein... 'art doesn't have to make meaning in order to be meaningful' (this is just my clumsy paraphrase, here).

In any case, it's ultimately up to the artist or writer themselves, as to which line of discovery he/she might want to pursue. It's our choice, thankfully.

BentLetter
There is plenty of room in the world for bad-boy stories like Breaking Bad and uplifting stories like The Fault in our Stars. That is my opinion, all of the day and all of the night.
I agree there's enough room for both.

Still, this recent passing wave of flawed heroes, moral ambiguity, and shock-value repulsiveness, seems just part of the latest skirling tide of fashionability ...compared to the older tradition of 'message-laden art'. One can't help but notice that.

Such trends and fashions come and go; that's the least which can be stated about them, right? Ultimately, they often die out on their own; without even being restricted by anyone. They wax and they wane all on their own.

Eh. All these debates go back (at least as far) as the rise of leisure reading in the Victorian era; where several now-famous literary genres got their start. Some of them got off to quite a rocky start—but today they dominate our media; and is anyone to blame for this? No. Well, maybe only modernity itself....

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Paulpowell 20 Apr at 10:35  
In Italy, in the 1600s, the grisly 'Manero' style of painting was the one which succeeded the High Renaissance glories of Michelangelo and Raphael. It was a big sensation at the time and lasted at least half-a-century (as I recall). Maybe even a bit longer...before the pendulum swung back and Neo-Classicism arrived.

Food for thought.

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Stromberg 20 Apr at 10:53  
The original poster gave some examples of authors and works they found uplifting: Flowers for Algernon, Shakespeare / Romeo and Juliet, Cervantes, Jack London, Hemingway, Lord of the Rings, Harry Potter. All books.

And they gave some examples of works they found awful: the Battlestar Galactica reboot, Shut Eye, Breaking Bad, Dexter. All TV shows.

Was this intentional? Is this a debate about awful characters in books, or is it really about how TV can be crap?

At the risk of going way off topic, what does everyone think of this way of treating films, TV and novels as if they were one genre or form? I should prefer to think of them separately, just as I think of opera and film as separate forms—which of course contain shared elements like story, music, dramatized action, etc.

I notice that the majority (in terms of word count) of the original post was about movies and TV, not books...
Stromberg 20 Apr at 11:35  
I posted, then got all hot to post again... I want to clarify where I meant to go with my prior post.

I raise the doubt about equating TV/movies with novels because of the difference in these forms as it pertains to characters. I don't see this as irrelevant to the original poster's concerns.

TV and film are obviously well-suited to depicting visual action: for characters, this would be their words and deeds. Where novels have the advantage is in portraying a character's inner life, emotions, and thoughts.

Film is often quite clumsy at this—the best one can hope for is an echoey-sounding voice-over while the actor screws her face up in a "thoughtful" expression. But when I finish a George Eliot or Charles Dickens novel, for example, I've learned more about the characters' thoughts and feelings than I can honestly say I know about some of my co-workers.

Because novels allow authors (at least those who choose to) to delve into their characters' psychologies, one could make the case that even a thoroughgoing villain can be made three-dimensional and human. With more subtlety and nuance, the presence of great evil in the story need not descend into a simple race to the bottom merely for purposes of titillation.

TV and film, on the other hand, are stingy with story. Google tells me that, for example, every minute of Fast & Furious 8 cost 1.8 million dollars to make. In such circumstances, there is enormous financial pressure to resort to shortcuts. Villainy is most easily established with a quick beheading or rape. There's no room in the budget for subtlety.

I have a suspicion that the descent into barbarism that the original poster laments is not something they have seen represented in fiction to the same extent as in film or TV. And I suppose that at least part of the reason is in the difference in capability of these forms to present characters, even the bad guys, as more human than films generally try to do.

Rebuttals?
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Blandcorp 20 Apr at 11:39  
The villain raping and pillaging is not the problem. When the hero only abstains from same because they're coming down the high from last night's binge crack party, then it's a problem.

(Then again, a counter-rebuttal is to observe that the classical heroes were hardly uncomplicated, "unproblematic" people themselves.

And in any case, the visual storytelling having its own constraints is an interesting angle.)

Cheers.

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Jole 21 Apr at 07:42  
yeah i agree, i don't equate novels with tv/movies. you can compare them in terms of writing, but as an audience member they're very different experiences. reading is more about 'feeling'. i'm not necessarily 'picturing' the scene all the time and when i do it's a very narrow image. i saw a thread here once where the OP was talking about 'staging' scenes in fiction and it made no sense to me. you don't picture everything all at once when you're reading, but yeah, i guess that's a bit off topic.

i think people talk about tv/movies here for a few reasons. first, they probably watch more TV than read fiction (lol). two, there's a greater chance you would have seen the same tv shows versus read the same novels. three, it's harder to critique books in a short comment slot. how do i talk about a passage in a novel so that you understand me, especially if you've never read it? or even in broader terms. i can tell you i loved Gone Girl because the pacing was amazing, but that's extremely vague and may not mean anything to you at all

to be honest, i'm a bit of a freak in that i don't watch tv and i see maybe three movies a year. but i would disagree that they're necessarily bad at storytelling or characterization. sure, not as good as a well-written novel, but there must be good stuff out there. Gone with the Wind, Revolutionary Road, The Dark Knight are examples, imho. and they all feature good guys with bad sides as well.

on a side note, i think it's funny to think of Romeo and Juliet as uplifting. i guess it's poetic, but they call it a tragedy for a reason.
Blandcorp 21 Apr at 07:54  
Tragedies can be uplifting, and arguably classical ones are. I happened to bump into a video discussing that point about Game of Thrones (vs. Tolkien). Could be interesting, if you have 35min to spare (and get over the initial ~10min of whining about season 7 GoT).

Cheers.
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Jongoff 21 Apr at 16:54  
Blandcorp: Excellent narrative that summarizes and proves my point very nicely.
Stromberg 21 Apr at 17:15  
Blandcorp
The villain raping and pillaging is not the problem. When the hero only abstains from same because they're coming down the high from last night's binge crack party, then it's a problem.
Interesting point. I can see now that my observations were a little off topic, as they focused explicitly only on villains, but I think they might still apply to these sorts of heroes.

Where do you think the appeal is of lousy heroes? Are TV writers aiming (in their simplistic way) to appeal to a viewership who flatter themselves that they are too world-weary and worldly-wise to believe in "good" heroes, so that asking them to root for a complete heel allows these viewers an ironic satisfaction that, unlike your Disney-princess-fans, they know what's what?

I agree that classical heroes, and many more since classical times, have been complicated, and that the antihero is certainly a valid sort of hero. But I also see the point of some posters here, that to set up a "hero" with absolutely no redeeming qualities is essentially to invite people to witness gory train wrecks. One watches, but one is hardly uplifted.

And I'd say that one finds plenty of this sort of characterization in TV and films because it's easy. In my opinion, there's nothing as easy as shocking people. And I still feel that, on the whole (and setting aside the exceptions which prove the rule), TV and film writers are presently guiltier of this laziness than novelists.
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Jole 22 Apr at 01:59  
because unless you're Jesus, everyone has a dark side. that's what we call a complex, complete or three-dimensional character. we need bad traits in our characters because it's not believable to be 100 percent good (unless you're Jesus). plus, being good is boring. it takes discipline. meanwhile, sinning is super fun. you get to indulge your flesh, do what you want when you want to and not give a hoot about anyone else. and then we relish in other people's sins because they're living our fantasy and/or they make us feel normal. i realise i sound sarcastic (sorry, it's just me), but i'm not criticising 'bad' characters; i love them. Macbeth is my favourite character/story of all time, are you kidding me?? it's the ultimate in self profiling prophecy. someone told him something he wanted to believe, so he made it happen and destroyed himself. i totally relate; i live this story daily.

i'd be interested to hear what anyone considers 'good' heros, because i certainly can't think of any. i'm sure they're out there but in severe limited form. even Mary Poppins was a complete egocentric snark; she just smiled prettily when she ridiculed you. regarding, Flowers for Algernon, well i read it a million years ago, but if it's true and Charlie was depicted as being free from a bad side, it's probably because he was developmentally disabled and we don't like criticising the disabled. creating an evil disabled person would make the author seem like a huge jerk (but i have limited memories of that book; i just remember crying at the end).

Stromberg, i find it interesting you say it's easy to shock people; i would think the opposite. with the help of the internet, i think it's getting increasingly harder to shock people; you have to keep raising the stakes. speaking of which, imho, a dark mind is way worse than dark actions. there are some dark minds that i just can't stomach, maybe because i'm afraid these people actually exist and you don't know who they are; you can't protect yourself from them. oh yeah, i guess it's also because we judge people on their intentions, not their actions alone. you can't commit most crimes unless you had a guilty mind to go along with it. yes, this is coming from someone who loves 'evil' Macbeth, but actually i think of him as more stupid, not evil per se.
Jole 22 Apr at 05:42  
Blandcorp
Tragedies can be uplifting, and arguably classical ones are. I happened to bump into a video discussing that point about Game of Thrones (vs. Tolkien). Could be interesting, if you have 35min to spare (and get over the initial ~10min of whining about season 7 GoT).

Cheers.
i tried listening to the video but i've never watched GoT so i couldn't picture the scene, thanks though. regardless, i don't completely disagree with you because i firmly believe all things are possible in fiction. i guess it also depends how you define 'uplifting'. (are we uplifted when our own cynicism is confirmed?) i suppose the good news is, the capulets and montagues agreed to stop fighting at least for a bit in the end. but imo it's still a bad example of an uplifting story. if you actually study it, the language is romantic but the story itself is depressing. i mean, if that happened in real life, we certainly would not be celebrating it the same way.
Blandcorp 22 Apr at 06:15  
Jole
(are we uplifted when our own cynicism is confirmed?)
Well, no. The point the video is making (echoing older traditions of tragedy) is that you can't be cynical and have catharsis, and that tragedy (to be meaningful) requires catharsis. As in, one must believe in something like the True, Good, and Beautiful, to understand that a tragedy even occurred, that there was a worthwhile mark being missed, why it was missed, and what may have been otherwise.

How something would be treated in real life is not the point. The whole idea of something like Romeo and Juliet isn't that it's a factual account of something that happened. The catharsis comes from, let's say, asking the audience: this is what can happen if you hold to your grudges, are you sure you want to sacrifice what you love to hold them? It's a what-if, and so the uplift comes from trying to NOT bring it into actuality.

Cheers.

__________________
Blandcorp 22 Apr at 06:20  
Stromberg
Where do you think the appeal is of lousy heroes? Are TV writers aiming (in their simplistic way) to appeal to a viewership who flatter themselves that they are too world-weary and worldly-wise to believe in "good" heroes, so that asking them to root for a complete heel allows these viewers an ironic satisfaction that, unlike your Disney-princess-fans, they know what's what?
It's a very plausible hypothesis, yes.

Cheers.
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Paulpowell 22 Apr at 08:25  
one stray thought left to contribute (from me)

Not sure if I said it once before here, or somewhere else—but its an opinion I've held for a while. The OP's concern over language reminded me of it. Anyway its simply this: one of the hallmarks of a great book (to me) is better-then-ordinary writing. 'Better' in the sense of caliber and quality. I want an author to display some pyrotechnics and fireworks.

Strong vocabulary, rich expressiveness, word-play, sensitivity...he should display tight control over his craft. I hardly ever want to pick up a book and encounter 'everyday' language; or 'commonplace' prose. A novel should give me something more advanced, more sophisticated. Like it or not, this is the character of most of the books we regard as 'classic'; its why I would gladly read anything by John Updike, or Saul Bellow or Thomas Pynchon, even John Irving. They are extraordinarily, cut-above-the-rest in their authorial skills. They are wordsmiths; they can do magical things with words even at the same time as they are telling me a story.

An example of verbiage which turns me off: I saw a bit of 'Ready Player One' and the author gives out with a sentence like this: "Josephine was good at the game. Scary good. She was..blah blah blah"

(I can't recall the exact character name, pardon me). But just look at the phraseology. 'Scary good'? That's contemporary slang you can hear on any television sitcom. That's pop-culture blather. I just won't bother with a book if it can't give me better than what I already hear from co-workers, friends, family, kids walking down the street, etc.

Maybe the issue of expletives is really sheltered under this larger issue of ...the 'conventional'?

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Soulslayer 22 Apr at 09:51  
Paulpowell, just one stray thought left to contribute (from me).


Do your friends, family and co-workers know that their patterns of speech are no more than pop-culture blather? You have put yourself on a pedestal, haven't you. How sad for you. Is it as lonely at the top as Good Fiction says it is?

A novel should give me sophisticated ideas, no matter the language or prose it uses for accessibility. In the end, it is ideas that make you think and reconsider what you think you already know (if you can think at all). Fresh ideas come from open minds. Open minds can filter out the "crap" and get to the essence, the point the author wants to get across. I dare say that even "Breaking Bad" has a "moral" to the story. We are wired to tell stories with "moral" to them. And that is because we are humans. From Earth. All of us.
Most people can subconsciously find the morals hidden within a story—any story, tragedy, drama, romance etc. Some people, those on high pedestals see only the two-dimensional surface of everything—people, books, film. One has to spoon-feed them because they lack vision to see deeper than the surface area. They love the Classics because it has been explained to them. They like the lazy comfort of pre-knowing what they must look for and find. (Spark notes, anyone?) Why do you think Classics are taught in schools? I suggest it's because there will be no controversies or conflicting ideas from the students—who are taught NOT to think. Pre-digested food for thought, is not food. It's sugar. We all love sugar, right?
Classics become classics over time for many, varied reasons that may be biased. All backgrounds have their own Classics and these, most likely, differ from yours, Paulpowell. Here's a thought for your dying bed when you get there, as we all will: If you had read everything you would have known that there is relevance to everything. Every story.
Of course you are free to choose who you want to be and then give your opinion on why. However, you risk coming off as narrow and as puckered as an anus (a simile here, not a accusation)—which of course is better than okay. Anuses are necessary, otherwise, how would we free ourselves of waste? And there's a reason waste stinks. It's so we know it when we see it.

I think I've said too much. Or did I say enough? No offence intended. Just my perspective of looking up at the bottom. (pun intended???)

I like my view from the ground. I can see that the ants have a system of working, a modus operandi AND know what they're doing! Oh my God! They're just ants! Who'd have thought? (Big metaphor here.)
Paulpowell 22 Apr at 10:16  
Do your friends, family and co-workers know that their patterns of speech are no more than pop-culture blather? You have put yourself on a pedestal, haven't you. How sad for you. Is it as lonely at the top as Good Fiction says it is?
Nope, not at all. Think of it this way. Imagine you're sitting in the waiting room of your dentist's or doctor's office. You're there for a checkup. Now while you wait, you can pass the time decently enough on your own; all things considered. Right? You can daydream, read, you can just just sit there, just sit there and ponder the meaning of life. Maybe just tilt your head back and rest your eyes.

But what happens when there's a crowd of other patients who enter —they barge into the room—and sit down right next to you? Squeezing you between them? Imagine they're loud, they're fidgety, they're scratching themselves, sneezing, belching, wheezing, coughing. They're moaning and complaining about their ailments. And their little kids are bawling their little heads off, crawling around on the floor. Suddenly the wait to see your dentist can become a nightmare in itself.

You'd much rather have that waiting-room back to yourself, wouldn't you? You know you would. 'No company' is always better than 'bad' company. JP Sartre said it, and said it well—long before I did.




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Jole 23 Apr at 02:21  
Blandcorp
Jole
(are we uplifted when our own cynicism is confirmed?)
Well, no. The point the video is making (echoing older traditions of tragedy) is that you can't be cynical and have catharsis, and that tragedy (to be meaningful) requires catharsis. As in, one must believe in something like the True, Good, and Beautiful, to understand that a tragedy even occurred, that there was a worthwhile mark being missed, why it was missed, and what may have been otherwise.

How something would be treated in real life is not the point. The whole idea of something like Romeo and Juliet isn't that it's a factual account of something that happened. The catharsis comes from, let's say, asking the audience: this is what can happen if you hold to your grudges, are you sure you want to sacrifice what you love to hold them? It's a what-if, and so the uplift comes from trying to NOT bring it into actuality.

Cheers.
i completely get your point about recognising good from evil, but i think we might have to agree to disagree about the play specifically and i don't know if i steered you off course from my original thought (sorry if i did). i was commenting on the OP's blog post and his interpretation of uplifting and how R and J is apparently that because people remember it for their 'impassioned devotion' to one another, and not for the sex. well, firstly, there are many problems with that argument and on why we remember R and J the way we do, but i don't have time to wax on about that.

still, the OP was right in that the passion and so-called love is the first (and maybe only) thing people think of when they think of R and J. and apparently that uplifts us? how? because it reminds us we'd rather kill ourselves than be without someone we've known for like three days? (bearing in mind Juliet probably killed herself for a host of reasons not relating to 'love' at all.)

i realise i'm really negative; i think i've read too many arguments on why R and J is a super sinister story, plus i'm a naturally negative person, plus i'm studying law (and criminal law specifically) so that automatically makes me a sceptic/realist, plus my friend hung herself a few years ago because she couldn't live without her boyfriend. maybe R and J is just a bad story for me to even ponder at all. and it's too hard to give R and J a worthy analysis in such a short comment slot.
Jole 23 Apr at 02:28  
Paulpowell

Strong vocabulary, rich expressiveness, word-play, sensitivity...he should display tight control over his craft. I hardly ever want to pick up a book and encounter 'everyday' language; or 'commonplace' prose. A novel should give me something more advanced, more sophisticated.
yes! i realise it's not fiction, but i was reading Rousseau's Social Contract last night, and right before bed which was a mistake because the words got me excited. i highly recommend if you haven't already.
Blandcorp 23 Apr at 02:56  
Jole
still, the OP was right in that the passion and so-called love is the first (and maybe only) thing people think of when they think of R and J. and apparently that uplifts us? how? because it reminds us we'd rather kill ourselves than be without someone we've known for like three days?
I feel like I've explained that already and we're talking in circles.

R&J meet and fall in love with each other in a matter of days because their story isn't meant to be real. It's a hyper-real, superstimulus, as most fiction is. A simplified, distilled version of what could be real. The uplift comes in getting the viewer invested in their love story, so they regret it being tragically crushed, so they can see the grudge holding as the main flaw that led to tragedy.

One can be a bean counter and complain that in real-life teenage R&J would, most of the time, just get over each other in a week. Or say something like, the real flaw is these characters' obsession with each other. Which rather misses the point. Romantic love is there as a visceral shortcut to a more general idea. "You" (whoever you are who watches this story) love something, whether a spouse, friend, child, or maybe an ideal, or your own dignity, or who knows what. You cherish something. Are you sure the baggage you hold doesn't threaten to smother that?

everyone has a dark side. that's what we call a complex, complete or three-dimensional character. [...] plus, being good is boring. it takes discipline. meanwhile, sinning is super fun. [...]

i'd be interested to hear what anyone considers 'good' heros, because i certainly can't think of any.
Of course, we disagree here too.

The real difference between the "good" hero and the cynical antihero isn't that one sins and the other doesn't. It's that both sin, but only one of them has a conception that sin even happend— the good hero, that is, because unlike the cynic, the good hero realizes there are marks to miss. The good hero knows there is something like the TGB, some sort of rightness in the universe to which to align themselves. They often fail, because good takes discipline and living in the world takes compromise. But it's infinitely more interesting, imo, to navigate that balance (and to limit compromising oneself in the name of expediency, to better align oneself with what is right) than to pretend, as the cynical anti-hero does, that there is no greater standard, and it's all some joke or lie of the more powerful.

Cheers.
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Stromberg 23 Apr at 03:31  
Jole
Stromberg, i find it interesting you say it's easy to shock people; i would think the opposite. with the help of the internet, i think it's getting increasingly harder to shock people; you have to keep raising the stakes.
I see what you mean, and you've got a valid point. What I wrote was a little too vague.

What I meant was, it's much easier to "shock" people through rape and murder than it is to shock them without a drop of blood spilt or a hand raised in anger. For example, to convincingly portray someone driven to the brink of suicide by emotionally abusive words alone—say, without even a single profanity. This would be an enormously difficult feat for a writer. By comparison, splitting somebody's head down the middle with an axe is easy. You just whack them.

I must say that my own writing disappoints me in this regard from time to time. It sometimes seems to me that, when I haven't got any better ideas for moving the plot along, somebody gets stabbed. (I'm writing a fantasy novel now.)

I meant to relate all this to the original post by trying to make the point that writing a hero or villain of "pure evil" isn't that hard. What's hard is nuance, and it is in nuance that we might be uplifted through exposure to shocking narratives. That's my theory, anyway.
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Blandcorp 23 Apr at 03:47  
Stromberg
I must say that my own writing disappoints me in this regard from time to time. It sometimes seems to me that, when I haven't got any better ideas for moving the plot along, somebody gets stabbed. (I'm writing a fantasy novel now.)
A fellow traveler I see This is a well-established principle.

Cheers.

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Jongoff 23 Apr at 10:58  
Whether you agree with my initial point of or not, I am happy to see it started a conversation. I think it's an important one to have
Hijo 24 Apr at 10:55  
I just watched a show that had nudity, mock decapitation, exsanguination, cannibalism, stealing, gluttony, false imprisonment, defecation (One with defecation sprayed on a photo of another character and all the other characters agreeing that was what was missing. One where the antagonist was offered defecation after literally scaring the poop out of another character). There was one character portrayed as totally benign, who under the threat of being eaten, recanted his faith and turned all his fellow townspeople in. As a final insult, the antagonist was immolated and sent out the door! So yeah, this is the last time I let my granddaughter watch Trolls.

On a happier note, even though my characters aren't real—yes, I know that—I will continue to being true to them. It has nothing to do with swearing, or killing, or helping an old lady across the street, it has to do with making them consistent and believable. A character shouldn't swear (insert whatever character flaw or trait you wish) if it isn't in his/her character. At the same time, for some character who has had an absolutely horrible life and grew up amidst swearing not to swear doesn't make sense. So, even though it isn't real life, the reader is smart enough to know something is off.
Blandcorp 24 Apr at 10:58  
Trolls? I thought you were talking about Southpark.

Cheers!
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Sandree 25 Apr at 15:22  
I have a very similar reaction to much of what I see on TV and read currently. I am unable to watch the shows that have no redeeming characters. I grew up with dysfunction and the last thing I want to see is a wholly dysfunctional cast of characters descending ever deeper into chaos. I spent my life clmbing out of that and that is what is interesting to me. What do you do with the dysfunction? I don’t mind a dysfunctional character but for God’s sake, let him or her or them strive for something or reach for something even if they fail. Or let there be darkness and light so that there is something interesting going on. Unrelieved darkness is just depressing for me. And probably unrelieved lightness is just as boring though I am more OK with it. It is the interplay of the two that is truly interesting. Maybe this is a reflection of being in my sixties, I don’t know. But my husband happily watches the darkest of shows. I don’t get it.
Vandrelyst 25 Apr at 16:19  
Interesting post and interesting conversation. I grew up reading a lot of stories where the main characters were close to perfect, at least in a moral way (they could have wounds and growth areas, of course, but those weren't usually moral failings), lots of heroic types.

Antiheroes and all-grey casts were something I came across later in life, in literature as well as in more modern fantasy. They were sort of interesting for the sheer novelty of it at first, though I do feel like they've become too common, and sometimes too gritty-to-be-gritty and "dark-grey" nowadays to feel uplifting or fulfilling.

Perhaps because I first came across the antiheroes and deeply flawed characters when I was more mature, and then often in literature or very popular fiction, I think there's a part of me that thinks it's the more "grown-up" or "modern" way to write, like anything with heroic characters and too simple of a good/evil split is either hilariously old-fashioned, or just for kids.

But I'm kind of fighting against that inner feeling now. And it's interesting to see that many people here agree with me (though it seems many of them are older than I am! )

Personally I like pretty blended-up stories, a mixture of light and dark, beauty and ugliness. I think each makes the other one more striking. And maybe, if forced to choose, I lean towards the pretty-and-nice side. Real life can be depressing enough without seeing horrible stuff on the page or on the screen, even if it can be interesting or illuminating in some ways.
Jesschip38 26 Apr at 22:41  
1) Not sure why we aren't allowed to like comments here as with forums. I was thumbs-up ready, and now I feel thumbs-down.

2) Debating the superiority of specified aesthetics, to me, is as fun as wearing an itchy wool sweater. It's claustrophobic and gives me a rash. I'd much rather be free to wear whatever the f*ck I want. But that's just me. Just another special snowflake.

3) My fear is that much of what constitutes mainstream/published culture is written by those worried about little more than making a buck. They'll gladly write what Jon Goff proposes when it's trending. Then, when it's more profitable, write a Breaking Bad spinoff focused on decapitation. I just want people to have the guts to make what they want to, instead of what they need to to pay the mortgage.
Blandcorp 26 Apr at 23:27  
You can put likes, but you need to get here from the Forums/Hot Threads list, rather than the main page. (For now)

Cheers.
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Jole 27 Apr at 01:51  
Jesschip38


3) My fear is that much of what constitutes mainstream/published culture is written by those worried about little more than making a buck. They'll gladly write what Jon Goff proposes when it's trending. Then, when it's more profitable, write a Breaking Bad spinoff focused on decapitation. I just want people to have the guts to make what they want to, instead of what they need to to pay the mortgage.
okay, but you don't know if you're not getting your wish; people might be doing this every day. half the fiction published each year are self-published and the vast majority don't sell very well, at all. of course, this also has to do with market saturation and one's lack of marketing effort, but it seems at least half the writers out there aren't doing it to pay the mortgage. you might be getting your wish one way or another.

unless, are you suggesting that industry people shouldn't care if your book sells, that they should spend their own money and go into debt out of the goodness of their heart? i sure hope not. that's like asking the bank to give you money that you never have to pay back, just because you're a nice person and it's the right thing to do.
Jesschip38 27 Apr at 06:45  
@ Blandcorp

Thank you, much appreciated.

@ Jole

Hear you on self-publishing, good point.

As far as the goodness of industry hearts—definitely not. I would say, though, that there are market inefficiencies in traditional publishing (as in every industry) due to the perceived, unquantifiable risk of taking on new authors. You have a mature industry with flat-to-declining revenues that is clinging ever-more to the same old cash cows. And though it's logical and beneficial to do so in the short term, in the long term it's economically harmful when it results in brain drain. Many great writers can't get paid to write what they want, so they don't. Or they self-publish without the know-how/time to market their brilliant books, which disappear into the ether, unread. Or they become ghostwriters to *improve* the work of an already-established author. Or they write a Breaking Bad spin-off focused on decapitation. Anyway. To sum up my rant, if Stephen King can fart into a pile of paper, put his name on it, and have a better shot at getting it published (and thus, have said fart-pile take up valuable shelf space at the airport for the next 3 years), versus an unknown who might attract a new contingent/generation of readers, there's something remarkably inefficient going on.

I'm not saying anything new and am obviously being facetious, but wanted to clarify I don't expect industry folk to hand out money + pats on the back + rainbows in exchange for mediocre work.
__________________
In the game Civilization, I always choose Scientific Victory.

Spaulding 28 Apr at 08:36  
I don't mean to say I can be a little thick, however, I read this article yesterday, got interrupted, but wondered which user was Jon Goff, came back to reread it and finish it today, wondered again who Jon Goff was, read about half the responses, and then finally figured out who Jongoff was.

That said, love, love, love this! Sorry I came late to the party.

There is just hubby and me in our house, and one TV. (Well, two, but I never use the second one.) With that, we pick which TV shows we watch together. We give many shows "a chance," but over the years, we discovered just one question needs to be asked in deciding if we will continue to watch the show. "Do you care about any of the characters?" Not the same as "Do you like them?"

And, yes, there is direct correlation between civility-with-noble-cause and caring for characters.

Have to admit though, I'm a bit surprised at this, Jon. Three years ago, I was arguing this point on the Children's forum, and almost got kicked off for it.
Jongoff 29 Apr at 14:23  
I can't speak to the particulars of your incident three years ago. The moderators deal with a lot of issues, and I don't recall them all. That said, the only reason we'd ban someone is for inappropriate behavior; not what was said, per se, but how it was said.
Xenazeus 2 Jun at 19:08  
I'm a newbie, my name is Barb. Referring to the original blog, my characters do write their lines, but when I write, I think, "What would my character say? Now, what would my character say if he had a vocabulary?" You DON'T need extraneous swearing to make a point, it should be saved and savored when it appears. The question is, what is swearing? Is damn a swear word anymore, or even sh**? Great blog, I enjoyed it. Made me think. Looking forward to more from this site.

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