One-Pagers

Today there seems to be a market for books that accommodate to a group of people I’d call “one-pagers.” Namely people who only read the first page of a book and then decide to toss it away or read through it. One page. That’s around 240-250 words or so. When I first read J.R.R. Tolkien’s The Lord of the Rings, I read the first 100 pages that were unbelievably boring, but after that, I was hooked, and it turned out to become one of my favorite books ever. If I had wallbanged it after the first page, I would’ve never gotten to enjoy the abundance of amazing art that followed the first 100 pages.

Maybe I’m just reluctant to let go of the ideal that readers would be patient enough to at least read a few pages, and I’m likewise reluctant to start catering for the one-pagers when I remember myself how tedious it could be to trudge through the first few pages (or a few dozen) to get to the good stuff, but I also remember how, when it did get good, I was glad to have read the set-up because it gave me perspective I would have otherwise lacked.

Now, I realize Tolkien’s book is by no means contemporary: times have changed, and many people are more and more reluctant to put in the effort to truly understand a piece of art. They want instant gratification, and that’s how we end up with the myriad of artists who decorate the MTV top 10 even though most of them will be forgotten in a few years. Few will be remembered, and even then it is usually those who have been able to somehow separate themselves from the mass of fast-food music, i.e. they did something differently.

I see a similar trend in literature: people want to feel after just one page what I felt with LOTR after 100 pages. They want it all, immediately, not in a moment but right now. But does this force authors to alter their works to fit the demands of the literary equivalent of MTV if they ever want to make writing into a living? Do we, as authors, want to push literature, once a noble art form, to become the proverbial quickie in the back alley? Or should we insist on retaining our vision even if it means fewer one-pagers will like it?

Maybe writers have to adapt to the times as well or get left behind. It’s just that… well, I also write songs for my band, and although our music (a mix of rock, funk, metal, and renaissance music) is a little more on the weird side than Justin Bieber, so far many an audience has liked it. I suppose it’s too weird to ever be mainstream, but I have zero interest in being mainstream if it means I have to turn my vision into something I don’t give two shits about (pardon my ending a sentence with a preposition).

My attitude as a songwriter has been to never, EVER compromise my art to please an audience: I don’t do it for a living, so we don’t need the money, so if someone doesn’t like it, that’s their problem, not mine, I just present my art as it comes from the ether or wherever.

I know, all this stuff about artistic integrity is very cheesy but bear with me: I try to bring that integrity and attitude to writing as well. That’s because when me and K.Trian first started writing, it was just for our own pleasure. And the whole idea stemmed from the fact that we had a hard time finding books we liked, and even when we did, we often felt “well, I would’ve done this bit differently.” So we decided to start writing books we would like to read ourselves. Just like I started my band in order to create music I liked. And to alter our works just to get them to sell more copies… well, I’m not sure if I want to do that.

Again, we don’t write for a living so I suppose not making it big doesn’t really hinder our lives that much, but I believe in what we do, I believe in the stories, truly, so it’s a little difficult to start cultivating the attitude that we have to change the works according to what the public is most likely to like in a given era. I know this may come off as cocky, but that’s not it. I’m just hesitant about altering something in order to make it sell better.

Maybe it IS possible to write a story that grabs the reader from the first sentence onward and never lets go without making it into another Twilight/Fifty Shades of Grey, but I need to take a moment to wonder how to go about that and still have the book be what I want it to be (art-wise).

 

Yours sincerely,

T.Trian

“They Are Not Real People”

We have an excellent professor at the university whose literature classes are always a hoot. Right now I’m taking one that prepares on writing my Master’s Thesis and almost on every class something he says kickstarts a thought-process that leads to me analyzing myself as an aspiring writer.

Many a class he says how it annoys him that people treat fictional characters as if they were real people. We were reading the Great Gatsby and I almost wanted to ask “why can’t these people just get along”? But then I remembered, again, that what a dumb question that was; I should’ve asked “why doesn’t the writer write them to get along?” This got me thinking about ‘fictionality’ of fiction.

Toni and I, as aspiring authors, are pretty adamant about making our fiction as realistic as possible. Sometimes it makes me wonder; are we nuts? This is fiction; why not write whatever pops into our heads as long as it sort of kind of makes sense? If we want to write “will they-won’t they” couple who’ll fight against their urges to sleep with one another for some vague reasons, why shouldn’t we? If we feel like writing a 50 kg female warrior with no particular super-powers, why couldn’t we? It’s fiction after all, it’s not a factual account of real events! They are not real people!

I’ll tell you why: the writer writes what is fun. Realism is fun to us, probably because it’s often so unfun and we’re twisted that way, who knows, but I’ve always liked a dollop of realism in a story — even if it’s about magic or monsters. If I can help it, the horse-back riding facts have to be right, the gun and fight facts, the scientific details, all squared away to the best of our abilities. And when those material things are done, there’s still the psychological side to the characters — even though they aren’t real people. But we treat them as they were, strive to make them psychologically plausible and labor not to sacrifice that plausibility to make the plot work. If we’re writing two hot single people, they better have plausible reasons not to sleep with one another if the plot is about not making them do it.

Then I’ve noticed some young writers as well as real authors find this obsession really quite, well, stupid (many do give us a slack). They get annoyed when we get nit-picky about their flighty, unrealistic accounts of violence. Female writers throw hissyfits because my female lead can’t fight an experienced man twice her size or if another is blind to the unspoken signals exchanged between a group of males. I’m labelled a chauvinist because I was trying to write realistically – even though they aren’t real people. This isn’t the way we write all our females. But some, yeah.

All this has started to make me think: are we not welcome to the world of literature and real authors because of our “obsession” for realism? Doesn’t that kind of literature have an audience? Or is it limited just to our immediate circle of friends?

Don’t people want to read about real people who aren’t real people? As for some reason I do. We do.

Sincerely,

Katri (the female half of this writing outfit)

About fighting: “The writer is the ultimate dilettante.”

So this one got me thinking this morning. I was just enjoying my breakfast (coffee, toast, and honey should anyone care) and doing some research on writing stuff as well as looking up new interesting authors. As I’m a big fan of Joe Abercrombie, especially The First Law -trilogy, I checked the links on his webpage and after a while sailed on the very nice website of certain Brent Weeks. Now, I haven’t read any of his books but I sure would like to! They seem hell interesting!

So then I bumped into the writing tips section. Excellent! I love reading tips from published, accomplished authors as they must know what they are talking about for the most part anyway, right? And I loved many of the tips Brent gave about worldbuilding and such in fantasy books.

Then we get to the fight scene tips. Oh my, some of this is actually kosher and something, miraculously enough, Toni and I have discovered ourselves: read books about fighting. No wonder our book shelves carry almost equal numbers of fact and fiction! There are sniper books, special ops books, French Foreign Legion books, rows of Geoff Thompson… So yeah, I agree with this!

I also love it how Brent tells the aspiring writer to go out and do it him/herself! Oh, here I truly agree! Except I would take it even further than Brent suggests. The thing is: we write about fighting because we find it interesting. So if it’s interesting, why not immerse yourself well and thorough in that subject? I wouldn’t be writing about it if it wasn’t interesting!

I ain’t no expert myself, yeah, but it sure is beneficial to go out there and get hurt! Learn to punch, kick, and take kicks and punches! Learn to grapple and wrestle, learn how to submit and how not to get submitted yourself, watch fights (sports to real ones), pick up a pistol if you are planning to write about people who shoot or jump on a saddle if you’re writing medieval fantasy! I agree that we can’t do everything: I can’t join a space army or steer a space ship, but I’m of the opinion that the writer should, as much as they can, experience the things they write about.

Why is this important? Well, some don’t find it all that relevant. Some enjoy their entertainment flighty. Heck, that’s why some of us read fiction: to escape reality (me too!) but I get a little ticked off if the stuff I read isn’t credible. Like how many male writers don’t know that girls ain’t that strong, okay? You can’t be a badass, hefty-guy-ass-kicker and have the body of a stick insect (unless it’s scifi, you’re the Alice of a mindless action movie, and you have been ‘enhanced’ physically. Gah.) Or when the desk jockey writer scribbles something down about exercise. I’m telling ya, the gravity better be darn light on that planet if you’re running 20K and feel like it was a cakewalk and you aren’t a running enthusiast (I am and I can feel 10K, double that and it does feel like an exercise).

Okay, maybe I got a little arrogant there. I’m no master myself and produce silliness every now and then too. But my point was that while I agree with Brent, the writer is the ultimae dilettante, I’d suggest taking it even further if you want to be truly credible. If you write about characters getting hurt, get hurt. It sounds awful and way nuts, I guess, but it’s not really. To learn and develop, one must experience discomfort too.

Yours Sincerely,

Katri

Check out Misters Abercrombie and Weeks behind these links!

http://www.joeabercrombie.com/

http://www.brentweeks.com/