Thursday, July 17, 2014

The Indie Writers' Movement Part 3: Prisoners

Please pardon me, Gentle Reader. The political hot topics of the day are being widely enough addressed that I feel no need to add further words to the torrent. (Besides, not one of them is at all new or fresh.) Atop that, I've just had a rather striking experience, owing to a brief article of mine currently available at PJ Media.

The Prisoner is my long-time favorite among television serials: for its originality, for its consistently excellent scripting and acting, for the presence of Patrick McGoohan, and for its exploration of the meaning of freedom, a thing of inestimable value to me. Over the decades that have passed since McGoohan's iconic production first graced the small screen, nothing even remotely comparable for theme, quality, or style has emerged.

It brought home to me the magnitude of one of the worst sins of modern fiction and its practitioners: our propensity to leap onto the current bandwagon as if we were incapable of an original thought. It's saddening beyond measure that that sin against one's own imagination has become just as prevalent among indie fictioneers as it is among conventionally published writers.

A few years ago, when I was also maintaining Musings of an Indie Writer, I wrote:

Fiction, like other forms of entertainment, is frequently afflicted by fads. Readers of contemporary fantasy are already aware of the fads for vampire and werewolf-oriented stories. Science fiction recently experienced a fad for stories about the extremely far future, and before that, what a friend called the “my artifact is bigger than your artifact” trend. And of course, “high” (medieval) fantasy often seems like one enormous, decades-long fad for quest adventures.

Many a writer will hop onto a fad in the hope of gathering a little of the gravy while it’s still flowing copiously. Being a devout capitalist (among other things), I cannot and shall not condemn such writers; they’re following the star most important to them. But the samenesses of faddish currents in fiction don’t speak well to the creativity of the participating writers.

Of course, a genre can experience two or more fads concurrently. Right now, contemporary (a.k.a. “urban”) fantasy is enduring trends for zombie-oriented stories, along with all the dreck about werewolves and vampires. Possibly it started with the “Resident Evil” series of video games, which were enormously popular and spawned an equally popular movie series starring the beautiful and talented Milla Jovovich. One way or another, we’re being overrun with zombie fiction. It’s become a campy motif: We have parodies such as Pride and Prejudice and Zombies, the hilariously funny movie Zombieland, op-ed essays that use a plague of zombies as one pole of a sociopolitical comparison, and assorted bits of humor such as the bar that posted, as a reason to drink there, that it’s well prepared for the “Zombie Apocalypse.”

...and so forth. But leave aside for the moment the readiness of the reading public to consume mass quantities of fiction about vampires, or zombies, or whatever. What accounts for writer Smith's decision to produce such material, given that there's already so much of it out there?

Smith might be personally fascinated by the central motif of the fad. Or he might think he has a truly original idea for exploiting it. Or he might be a hack, who just wants to slurp up a trickle of the gravy from a booming subgenre. Or -- and this is the part that fascinates and saddens me, because my review of other indies' works makes it seem the most likely explanation -- he might not have any original story ideas, but wants to write anyway.

If you have no original ideas, why write? Why inflict your story on a reading public that has seen too many such already? Isn't the first lesson of success in business -- any business -- that you must "differentiate the product" -- ?

As for the "striking experience," here's the morning's illustration of how desperate many readers are for something they haven't seen before:

I don't wish to comment on the main topic, which I have never seen and do not intend to amend that fact. Your "about the author" made me laugh so loud it made my children come running. Keep writing. You've got your "writers' voice" you just need to find your wider audience. And you will good sir, you will.

The sweet woman who penned that comment wasn't even interested in the subject matter of my article. She was merely surfing PJ Media and her eye caught on my piece: specifically my "About the Author," which I copied from my SmashWords profile page.

What tickled "Katherine in RB" so greatly? She's probably seen as much humorous prose as any casual Web reader. My self-deprecating pseudo-bio -- alright, yes, I do have bad acne and crooked teeth, but I have no effect on local property values...I think -- isn't even all that funny. But it's a contrast to the praise so many indie writers have heaped upon themselves, to say nothing of the plaudits they award their own books.

Lack of imagination and "bandwagoning" even afflict writers' self-descriptions.

Yes, there are considerable risks involved in striking out on a wholly new path. For one thing, you can fool yourself about the degree of originality of your ideas. For another, they might not provide sufficient substance for a novel-length story. And for a third, there might not be any readers interested in the motifs you've employed or the themes you've chosen to highlight; as one who writes explicitly Christian-themed science fiction and contemporary fantasy, I know that particular risk very well. But there's an even greater risk in blandly following the crowd.

The crowd has power but no mind. Its decisions are approximately random, and often randomly destructive. By submerging yourself in it, you surrender your imagination, your latitude of action, and your self-respect. Should the crowd take you somewhere you'd rather not go, there'd be no guarantee that you'd be capable of freeing yourself.

If we eschew original thought for the current fad and its evanescent appeal, we cease to be independent minds. We become prisoners of others' decisions. Is that a status to which an "independent" writer should aspire?

Food for thought.

1 comment:

WalkingHorse said...

Well done, sir. The Prisoner was one of my all-time favorite series, for the reasons you cite. The war between the individual and those who wish to suppress him, to make him subservient to them rather than to the Creator, shall never cease.