I read a New Yorker book review (can't link it, because it doesn't appear to be on their website) of Emma Donoghue's new book "The Wonder" (which sounds fascinating, incidentally) and the review contained this line:
"Donoghue [is] a writer of great vitality and generosity--one gets the sense that she would gladly have her characters over for dinner . . . ."
And I was struck, as I always am, by how unusual some people seem to consider this. I really only write about people I'd like to have over for dinner. I'm going to spend so much time in their heads; if I don't like them, I would find that excruciating. Maybe I would feel differently if someone was paying me to write about these people, but I think what my brush with publication ended up mostly teaching me was I do a terrible job of writing to other people's specifications. My writing is too caught up with my mental health, which means I write all about people I'd either like to be friends with or like to marry, doing things that I find interesting and entertaining.
But I'm wondering how the rest of you creators out there feel! Do you usually want to have dinner with your characters? Or are you so sick of them you like being able to send them home at the end of the day? ;-) Is it different for fic vs. OCs? Any thoughts?
And, if you have could have dinner with any of your characters, which would it be? Are there any you'd hate to have dinner with? I feel like I would love to have dinner with almost all of my characters but especially the NBT edition of Arthur and Eames, who I think would be amazingly entertaining and also interesting to talk to. (I also think the PSL edition of Arthur and Eames grow up to be fantastic dinner party guests. They probably grow up to be something similar to the NBT edition. Those two versions would get along very well with each other.) I would hate to have dinner with the iterations of Sherlock's parents in N&N or B&C. ::shudder::
What about you?
Here’s what happened to me yesterday:
It was my niece’s first day of preschool. My sister couldn’t take the whole day off of work which meant it was my responsibility to pick her up. I went with my sister in the morning to see her off. Then I treated my nephew (newly an only child for the morning) to a playground. He had to go to the bathroom while at the playground. Cue emergency drive back home for bathroom services. Then he was disdainful about the previous playground and requested a different playground. I literally sat on Yelp on my phone and he and I looked over photographs of playgrounds before choosing one. We went to the new playground. I clambered over the jungle gym with him and raced him around the greenspace and pushed his little toy cars around. Then I went to pick up my niece, who had a lovely and exhausting first day at school. Then I had to work at my own actual full-time job for a few hours, with several back-to-back video conference calls. Then I had a loud, noisy dinner with my extended family. It’s summertime here, so the weather’s gorgeous, so we sat outside for a while with the kids (my sisters have four kids aged five and under, included a two-week-old) and let them run around. We didn’t end up coming inside until after 8 pm.
At which point, instead of catching up on the fact that I am apparently a shallow person whose life lacks challenge or difficulty, I re-read @gyzym‘s Domesticverse for the Dreaming Readers discussion.
If you don’t know what I’m talking about, neither did I until this morning, when I saw this quote on @elizabethminkel‘s Twitter:
You guys. What is this *absolute nonsense*? After my initial WTF reaction, I kind of find myself here laughing until I cry at how *idiotic* this is. Let’s ignore the “sub-sitcom level interactions” dig. One of the things about adulthood that I will never get over is how the people most sure of their own desirability to be heard by others are often the people who are literally the most ridiculous people in the room. (The converse is also true, that the people who are the quietest are of course often the ones with the most valuable stuff to say.) (And this always makes me think of the Susan Sarandon quote from “Bull Durham” that is one of my favorite quotes of all time, about how the world is made for those not cursed with self-awareness, because SERIOUSLY.)
Just when I am sure I have heard everything about about fans and fandom and fic... Because I saw there was a kerfuffle yesterday, about fans being entitled and about harassment, but that is stuff I’ve seen before and so I was not at all surprised by it, more resigned. But I have never actually seen (maybe because I am sheltered) people getting appalled by *coffee shop AUs.* What the hell? What has a coffee shop AU ever done to them? Of all the pieces of fic I feel like people could make fun of, to choose “coffee shop AU” is absolutely beyond me.
Here’s the deal, something being apparently willfully ignored, I guess? A lot of us don’t want “conflict” or “personal difficulty” in narratives (at least, not in the way it’s being defined in the quote above, apparently) because we have it in our lives. I was a lawyer for a lot of years. My life was nothing but conflict. I didn’t feel like coming home and having it in my fiction. I spent all day yesterday negotiating with children. Delightful children who I love a lot, but still. Do you think I wanted to sit after a day like that and read about “personal difficulty” like it’s some sort of Bible verse I need to be taught? I don’t want to get all crazy and shouty but, like, is this something common to a certain type of man, that their lives aren’t challenging or difficult enough that they crave it in fiction? I don’t need to be taught in my fiction about conflict and personal difficulty. I’m a grown-up. I’ve got that covered. Stop using my fiction to mansplain to me about how tough life is. The reason you think that needs to be mansplained is because you don’t realize that most of us get taught that through actual life.
But the other problem is, well, has this guy read any of this stuff? I totally agree with the “younger fan on Twitter” quote, that what I most want for my characters is that they get everything they want in life. And, actually, that’s what I want for *all my characters.* Not just my fic ones, but my original ones, too. I want them to be so gloriously happy, the same way I want the children in my life, my nieces and nephew, to grow up to be so gloriously happy. I don’t want them riddled with “personal difficulty” and “conflict.” And I know that characters are different from children, but I think having an attitude where you decide to spend a bunch of your headspace making someone entirely in your control *miserable* is, in my view, weird. I mean, I don’t care if that’s what you want to do--YMMV and everyone can create what they want--which is exactly my point: Why should this attitude that serious writers have to be *mean* exist?
I think I’ve written about this before but it’s all connected to the idea that people think they have to be mean to other people to be taken seriously. I saw this all the time in the law firm and it drove me crazy. People would do horrible things to other people, just because they could, and they thought it would “build character” and “make better lawyers” or “give them the right reputation” or whatever. Ugh. I tell my students these days that the most important thing I want from them is to go forth in the world and *be kind.* And if I want to do that in my stories to my characters, it’s not because I don’t think enough about the world, it’s because I’ve thought *a lot* about the world, and about the world I want, and it’s one where people are allowed to be *happy.* It’s one where people are not weirdly offended by the idea of *other people* being *happy.*
And these are not stories without conflict and difficulty, anyway. No story is. Not even the ones that are unabashed fluff. I wrote “Next Big Thing,” and I spent 200,000-plus words writing a happy relationship, where the characters never have a major fight with each other. All they do is flirt and banter and work and play. And lots of my readers commented that it doesn’t have angst, but they also all agree that it *does* have a plot. There’s conflict in the story, mostly in the form of Alec Hart, the character nobody likes. But Alec Hart might drive some of the narrative, but he isn’t the focus. Part of what infuriates Alec Hart, of course, is that for most of the story, he’s a secondary character, an annoying little gnat they swipe away. I assume that it would have been a “better” use of my time to write NBT from the perspective of Alec Hart. *That* would have been a story FULL of conflict, because Alec Hart writes everything in his own head on an epic operatic level and in that context Arthur is probably a full-blown James Bond villain. Alec Hart, let me tell you, he hates coffee shop AUs and despises the idea that Arthur and Eames get to live happily ever after. (Eames, as we all know, adores a good AU, and even better a good PWP.)
There’s also no way in which NBT isn’t a story about personal difficulty, btw. NBT hews close to Arthur’s brain (most fic does stay very close to character perspectives; I’ve seldom read an omniscient-narrator fic, which I think is an indication that fic really is focused entirely on personal difficulties), and Arthur’s brain, while not being a mess, isn’t entirely a picnic, either. He doesn’t see himself clearly, he sells himself short, he has to work hard initially to trust in his relationship, he’s prone to worry and micromanaging and panic spirals. He gets to the point where he doesn’t second-guess Eames, where he reaches this plane of contentment, but I don’t think he ever loses his knee-jerk reaction to panic over things. Arthur’s story in NBT is actually possibly my favorite one I’ve ever written, because I think it’s gentle and small and very real, the journey a lot of us make to letting other people love *us,* and accepting that as a true and real possibility, that we really are lovable as *us.* What is more difficult, or more personal, than that?
The problem with my original stuff, I am often told, is it’s not “big” enough. It needs higher stakes, I’m told. I think that’s this same attitude leaking through. And there’s a way in which it’s connected with the idea that women tell “small” stories; that stories about happy couples are “small” stories, instead of the most challenging, complicated, difficult story of them all. There was another quote:
Nothing could be further from the truth. Fic is about *life.* A happier life, maybe, than a lot of people get, but there’s a reason that the most dramatic setting in a fic is a coffee shop, a place many of us go almost daily. We want our stories to be about our lives. If you find stories about life “dramatically unsatisfying,” I’m a little sad for you. But, in my opinion, fic *is* the vegetables. It’s like a garden tomato, warm from the sun, drizzled with some olive oil and sliced over fresh mozzarella and a little bit of basil. Or asparagus, roasted to a crisp and dusted with sea salt. Or spinach sauteed with garlic. Or whatever your most delicious vegetable is. It’s the thing you’re resigned to--life--made the best it can be. All the other contrivances of conflict and personal difficulty that makes up over-the-top “serious” stuff? That’s the popcorn. Every time I walk into a coffee shop, I get to wonder if my AU is about to start, and that’s fantastic. How often do you get to relate to “serious” stuff? Is any of that stuff ever relevant to your life?
Last night I re-read the Domesticverse, which is one of my favorite fic series of all time. In it, Arthur and Eames, two ruthless career criminals, make a life for themselves. The fic is not without conflict and personal difficulty: Arthur and Eames quarrel over big things and small, struggle with commitment and the L word, work with co-workers they detest, catch the flu, have cars break down. Their kitchen sink breaks, a tree falls through their bedroom roof, their house almost burns down, surround sound systems refuse to work properly, family members die, other family members get married, they almost get themselves killed, etc. But they are also so incredibly *happy* with each other. They laugh a lot, have a lot of sex, cuddle with each other, take care of each other, buy each other gifts, text each other sweetly, etc. It’s a happy fic, one of the fics that made me want to live with Arthur and Eames forever (so I let them move into my head), and last night as I was re-reading I was thinking how I could write long essays about its clever brilliance. I had no idea what I was doing was engaging in an act of protest, but it really was. I also had no idea what I was doing was in any way shallow, because it really *wasn’t.*
I can’t speak for other fans. But for me, I write and read fic not because I feel entitled to get what I want, entitled to my own opinion, but because I feel like *everyone* is entitled to get what they want. Does Christopher Nolan want Arthur and Eames together? I could not care less. He doesn’t have to have them together. He can do whatever he wants, and I can do whatever I want. The world is wide enough for all of us, you guys. It is wide enough for *everything.* It is huge. You want to write a coffee shop AU? Please. Be my guest. HAVE AT IT.
If you did the pre-canon read with us last week (and even if you didn't!), come stop by for the post-canon read. It's a really great, quiet, sweet little fic, and the discussion already has a bunch of great comments!
If you've been looking for a fandom with an embarrassingly high number of really excellent fics, and/or looking for an excuse to jump in to the profusion of fics in a friendly fashion, this week dreamin_readers is discussing Origin Stories, which makes it a perfect starting point for you because it's a story about how Arthur and Eames met. Oh, and also, I'm leading the discussion, so that makes it awesome, too! And then next week we're discussing a post-canon story, so you can move from how they met to how they spent the rest of their lives together in two perfect weeks. :-) Stop by and join us!
Come join teacup_society for our grand opening! We're hosting our first virtual tea cup party on Saturday, January 30th. Come at any time, Saturday or Sunday, to share in a love of tea cups.
Virtual biscuits will be provided. (Though we do not recommend eating your computer screen to enjoy them.)
I went to “Hamilton” last night, and I know lots of people asked me to share what I thought afterward, and at the time I was like, “Sure!” but I ended up having a very different “Hamilton” experience than I had thought I would, so this turned into a story not really about “Hamilton” in which I am annoying and self-pitying and you should just skip to the bullet points.( It"s so blargh, just skip it, reallyCollapse )