Tuesday, November 5, 2013

who or what can be a protagonist?

I recently had a writing expert tell me a robot cannot be a protagonist. Earlier this expert said God can't be a protagonist. Only now do I understand what he was getting at, namely, a protagonist must have something to lose. There must be something on the line. There must be the possibility that he/she/it can fail. This is hard to imagine with the Judeo-Christian G-O-D, omniscient and omnipotent. However, I have read stories with God as the protagonist; this God could fail, so I guess technically it was not The Judeo-Christian God. Similarly, the robot in question was sentient, it had intelligence, feelings/emotions, hopes/dreams, and could die. So, I say this robot could also be a protagonist. Can a random non-sentient machine be a protagonist? No. Can a ghost or other supernatural creature be a protagonist? Yes, if he/she/it can act and had something to lose.
What do you think?

For more on my take on protagonists see: P is for Protagonist.

Thursday, October 31, 2013

Wednesday, October 30, 2013

rounded characters

A writing expert told me recently contradiction within characters leads to well-rounded characters. Wow! This is great advice.
My mind is racing with ideas. I think I have a lot of rewriting to do...

What do you think?

Tuesday, October 22, 2013

What is the Great American Novel?

There's been some discussion in mainstream media lately about The Great American Novel. Over at The New York Times Sunday Book Review Jennifer Szalai and Mohsin Hamid ask Where Is the Great American Novel by a Woman?. At The Huffington Post Claire Fallon asks Is 'The Great American Novel' a Useless Concept?.

Szalai says, The scholar Nina Baym has pointed out how “stories of female frustration are not perceived as commenting on, or containing, the essence of our culture.” Stories of male frustration, on the other hand — especially those “melodramas of beset manhood” in which men struggle with the siren call of comfort and domesticity — jibe more neatly with what we expect serious literature to be. Men's self-discovery is hunting for big game; women's self-discovery amounts to tidying up around the house. Szalai's central thesis seems to be that American culture, at least American literary culture, is still hobbled by sexism. Instead of the Great American Novel, maybe we should be talking more about our Great American Fixation, the insistent desire to find the book that tells us who we are. How we define that search — what counts, what doesn’t — has said as much about “the American soul” as any novel that’s supposed to do the same.

Hamid asks the question What else are those mind-blowing late-20th-century works by such American women as, among others, Kingston and Kingsolver, Morrison and Robinson, L’Engle and Le Guin, if not great novels? But he says, "...they aren't the Great American Novel. ...There is no such thing." Hamid concludes "Literature is where we free ourselves." Why even worry about labels like 'The Great American Novel?'

Fallon correctly notes, however, "...the quest will continue, with or without you." She makes a lot of interesting points, including, Our discussion of the Great American novel is actually a fantastic opportunity to challenge our ingrained conception of what an "everyman" in America can look like. Can an everyman be a woman, or black, or a recent immigrant from Mexico? Can an everyman be disabled, gay, or have parents who moved here from Taiwan? It's instinctive to designate such narratives as great or definitive books about being black in America, or about a being a woman seeking self-discovery, or about LGBT communities -- but these narratives are not any less purely American than those of white, straight men seeking their own identities or fortunes across the country.

Hurray, Ms. Fallon. I'm ready and waiting for the everyman story which just happens to be about a female, black, disabled, gay Mexican-Taiwanese-American. Because, really, what is this thing we call The Great American Novel?
It's our story.

Wednesday, October 16, 2013

Entertainment: the intersection of art and commerce

I've been thinking a lot about fiction as pure art versus fiction that sells. I do think authors need to be aware of these issues. Creating a story for a particular market is very different from creating a story for yourself. If you're writing for yourself, anything goes. You can explore all kinds of themes, topics, structures. You could have a story based purely on setting, or whatever other idea you can come up with. A story you'd like to sell, on the other hand, must be a story--by which I mean there is a protagonist who has some kind of problem/conflict and acts to solve it. A story must be entertaining. Thus, you could say entertainment is the intersection of art and commerce.
I recently read InterWorld by Neil Gaiman and Michael Reaves. I really enjoyed this novel. In fact, it might be my favorite of Gaiman's work. I'm surprised there isn't more buzz about it. Gaiman claims it originated as an idea for a TV show. Could this be the reason why it isn't more lauded? It's too commercial?
What do you think?

Tuesday, October 8, 2013

Literary versus Genre

Recently, I've had the opportunity to interact with a creative writing teacher of the literary variety. It has been interesting. Some things I expected. I thought literary fiction likes a lot of description with beautiful metaphors and similes. This is true. I thought literary fiction thinks plot is less important. This is also true.

Some things I did not expect. One thing I've learned is literary fiction really likes ambiguity and subtlety. If the reader can't tell what's going on...that's a good thing. Another surprise was story structure can b e very important. According to a literary creative writing teacher here are the elements of a story:

  • Structure
  • Character(s)
  • Plot
  • Setting

What is the one thing every story must have? Conflict. I agree conflict is very important...but how do you have a story or conflict without a character? I'm still scratching my head about that one.

What do you think?