Friday, January 6, 2012

A Pet Peeve of Mine

Whether I see this in a book or a movie or even in a summary, this is always something that hits the trigger button: reader/writer protagonists. I'm sure you're familiar with all of these tropes:

-The blocked writer searching for inspiration. 90% of the time, this person ends up writing a book that almost exactly mirrors their own life (ie the plot). Even if they don't get published, people who read this book (especially love interests) will find it to be one of the most heartfelt and brilliant things they have ever read.

-The best-selling writer. This person has not only earned insane amounts of money from writing, but they have reached celebrity-level fame.

-The protagonist who escapes into books and dreams of having an adventure of their own. And then guess what--an adventure shows up at their door!

When I see these tropes in a summary, they set off warning bells in my head: Warning: self-insert. Warning: wish-fulfillment. Warning: escapism. It makes me automatically assume that this character is either based on yourself or based on who you wish you could be. And yes, I know this is a very broad assumption, but it's the first thing that will come to mind.

(And it's especially annoying when the creator doesn't have a fucking clue about how the real writing industry works. In Limitless, for example, the writer has a book contract (and has received an advance!) even though he hasn't written a word. What legitimate publisher would put out a contract and money for a fictional book that doesn't even exist yet?)

Now there have been works that actually have used this trope well. Secret Window comes to mind. Same with celebrity writer Baltasar Daza in Por favor, rebobinar.

But seriously, why would anyone want to read about a writer? As a group, we're not that interesting. We sit in front of our computers typing away, and when we're not doing that, we're taking care of our families, watching Dr. Who, and working 1-3 other jobs so that we can actually pay the bills. We rarely accomplish anything that has any concrete effect on the world around us. And contrary to popular belief, most of us are not unappreciated geniuses who constantly spew profound statements about the human condition. (Some of us think we are, but we're usually kidding ourselves.)

And best-selling writers? Most of them aren't that famous outside of their respective genre circles. (Unless you're J.K. Rowling, Stephenie Meyer, Dan Brown, or Neil Gaiman.) How many people who aren't fantasy readers have heard of Patrick Rothfuss? What about Cassandra Clare and Veronica Roth? Outside of the YA circle, no one knows who they are. We often forget just how many people exist in this world who don't read for pleasure. Within my own group of close friends, I can only think of 2-3 people who consistently read outside of their schoolwork (not counting manga or fanfiction). So when you're telling me that anyone and everyone has heard of your writer protagonist, please excuse me when I call "bullshit."

I'm sick of seeing the various incarnations of "brilliant writer" in fiction. If anything, I want to see more bad writers. Writers who can't finish a book, not because they're too overwhelmed by their own genius, but because they're too lazy and unfocused. Or writers who can finish a book, but the book is a pile of cliched crap. And all those supportive girlfriends applauding the writer's genius? How about this conversation instead?

Writer: I'm almost finished with the first chapter. Do you want to take a look?
Girlfriend: Yay, awesome! (reads first page. cue in face drop as her eyes scroll over the text.) You know what, honey? I have to go work now. How about I finish it later?

And as for the protagonists that don't write, but who use stories to escape from the boredom of their own lives? Clearly this is a sign that they are too boring too actually carry on their own story.

Mostly what all this comes down to is that I hate escapist writing. I hate this attitude that people read and write in order to escape from the boredom of their own lives. This attitude is unhealthy, and I don't understand it. Escapism is nothing more than admitting defeat. If your life is boring, how about actually doing something to make it more interesting?

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