Look, Ma, No Subject Matter! Dept.

By Serdar Yegulalp on 2013-05-18 14:00:00 No comments

From the comments to Science Fiction Repair Shop: A Defect Of Character Dept. (Genji Press), where I lamented the way SF&F authors seem to be untrained in (or discouraged from) digging into personal experience and thus establishing an intimate rapport with their readers:

Going from the idea that there's a loss of intimacy and connection [between audiences and creators in their works], then is it possible that need is acknowledged - in other media? Authors blogging, connecting on twitter, showing up at conventions? Is that in part a substitute for a lack of intimacy in the media itself?

I suspect this problem has been around since long before the recent explosion of social media, so while those things didn't create this problem, they certainly haven't been of much help alleviating it. The root of the problem seems to be the way we confuse merely having an audience with actually having something to say.

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Every author¹ craves an audience, and not always for reasons they themselves fully understand. Some write simply because they have a vision to communicate, one with more appeal to the senses or the emotions than the intellect, and where any intellectual content is most likely discovered after the fact or attributed retroactively by others. Some write because they have a specific agenda to advance, whether aesthetic, political, social, or personal. And sometimes that personal agenda is nothing more than the cultivation of an audience: they want to write so they can be heard.

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This by itself isn't the issue, or even an issue. Most everyone writes because on some level they want to be heard, or need to be heard. Such an impulse is not by itself a sin; without it, few people would ever have the impetus to make their work public in the first place. Nobody wants a society of folks like Henry Darger, working in obscurity and silence until they die, and only then having the closet into which they stuffed their opus break open and disgorge its contents.

But the opposite isn't healthy either. Nobody needs a society where the sole function of every piece of written work is to simply create an audience for its author. That's the celebrity mentality, where people are famous for being well-known and well-known for being famous. The merits of them as human beings, let alone creators of anything, are thrown over the side of the boat and left to sink.

I have known too many authors, fledgeling and otherwise, who more or less admitted their main motive for writing was to get some attention. I don't think they felt there was any shame in admitting such a thing, and I doubt they would have let anyone convince them otherwise either. What was wrong with wanting a little of the limelight for themselves? Everyone else does it, and besides, how else is a boy supposed to sell his book?

What goes buried under all this, or maybe forgotten entirely, is how the idea of having something to say is more than about drawing attention to yourself. Storytelling is not merely about making a claim for your cleverness or your inventiveness, although it can contain those things. It is about positing a way things could be, for good or ill, and thereby saying something about our world that can only spring from the cultivation of a philosophy or a point of view.

Such things do not come automatically to people, and do not express themselves automatically, either. They require training and discipline to manifest, and one of the surest ways to never let that happen is to be distracted by all the different clamors for mere attention that the world can send your way.

¹ For "author", freely substitute any other kind of creator.

Tags: audiences media ecology writing