Jay Lake (jaylake) wrote,
Jay Lake

Eating my words, chewing them up, and spitting them back out

I've been thinking more about my genre shield post. I seem to have accidentally set off a tempest in a teapot. (Or perhaps a stewpot...)

What I didn't mean to say was that genre would categorically prevent emotionally genuine writing. Unfortuunately, that's what I more or less did say, out of shooting from the hip. The comment directly and indirectly stirred objections from both directions -- the "write to entertain" folks and the "write to bone" folks. Further confusion was caused by the blade-and-bone metaphors, which seem to have meant very different things to different people.

Barth Anderson did a very good job of capturing the underlying fallacy in the whole discussion, where I had been pointing fingers at the writer, by saying:

The writer is not the one who is flayed open in a truly resonant story. It's the reader who is laid bare.

I can find room to argue here, but I'm not going to bother, since I've long averred that the story belongs to the reader once it leaves the writer's hands.

However, to the topic at hand, my revised thesis, after reading a day's worth of comments and counterarguments in other people's posts, is that the tropes and structures of genre, any genre, provide a story-telling framework which intersects with the emotion in the writing. One can occlude emotionality through genre-specific aspects, or one can bring it into sharp focus.

As I write, I realize this sounds very much like talking out of both sides of my mouth. That's because it is. This question as I proposed it amounts to a tautology, in fact, one which Jeff VanderMeer and Barth Anderson neatly and wisely stepped around.

The more interesting question which cropped up out of today's passage of words was whether there must be a core of strong and genuine emotion at the bottom of every story. I'm leaning heavily toward "there certainly ought to be" on this. Perhaps this is self-evident, perhaps it is not, but I chew on it nonetheless. Our Western/anglophone storytelling tradition begins with a character in a setting with a problem. Simplistically...

Marta was on a 27-hour orbit to Gernsback Station, with 11 hours of air left.

"You have ten seconds to convince me not to kill you," said the violet-eyed man standing over me with his foot on my chest.

Bennie's rent was late for the third month in a row, and he hadn't been able to feed his cat since Sunday.

Could you tell a story which was rooted in procedure, or technicality, or description, or some other aspect of craft or genre? Sure. It gets done all the time, to varying degrees of success. I've read plenty of entertaining but emotionally neutral fiction. But people connect most strongly to emotion, which arises naturally out the character's interaction with and reaction to their setting and problem. It's why work of bafflingly poor craft quality can become a major bestseller -- Bridges of Madison County springs to mind.

In my own writing, I would throw almost everything else overboard to maintain a genuine emotional core to my story. Luckily I don't have to. This isn't the wreck of the Hesperus. We don't have to cut things loose.

Maybe another way to look at my original attempt at expressing this concept is to think of genres as being like forms or molds, into which stories can be poured. To choose to write in the vernacular of a given genre offers writer and reader alike a toolset to approach the story -- the reading protocols originally articulated by Delany. Those tools can be used in lieu of emotion, dancing fast in hopes no one will notice, or they can be used in pursuit of emotion, stepping into those blades, however metaphorical they may be, or they can be used to another purpose entirely, where emotionality is simply one of the supporting structures.

As to whether the emotion should come from within the writer, I don't see how it could be otherwise. But that's just my view. I don't suppose that should be true for other writers.

So here I am arguing with myself, making change for my own $0.02 worth. As always, your mileage may vary.
Tags: process, writing
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