Francine - harvest
I Blame the Dutch mpoetess
Previous Entry Share Flag Next Entry
Hmm -- when is fic art?

For me, I mean. A neurotic ramble that I was going to post as a reply to wesleysgirl's comment on byrne's lj -- but LJ is being a beeyotch, so I'll post it here instead. It was tangential anyway, and concidentally prompted by a chat with benaresq as well.

When I write stories, I see them as art (with a couple of specific exceptions where I let myself be too close to the story, and really can't distance myself from it). Not in the "hang it on the wall, ha, I have created Art" sense. I don't see them as *good* art, necessarily. I just mean that I see them as something that I'm *trying* to make good, to use the right words, to provoke a specific reaction. To make something people will think is pretty.

When I read them, I don't think of [most] stories as art. Unless I know going in that I'm not deeply into the characters or don't like them, and it's going to be all about the language, or I'm beta-reading or otherwise purposely acting as editor/critic. When I read stories for me, they're a) entertainment b)escape c) an emotional experience. I'm reading to get into the characters' heads and have an adventure - be it an actual rip-rollicking swinging through the woods on vines adventure, or a falling in love and fighting about who last changed the cat litter adventure. If I *like* the characters, enough to get into it, then I become the POV characters. That's not art, for me; it's living.

And thus when something happens in the story that may be great art -- the death of a main character, the realization that not all love stories work out -- it not only dumps me badly out of the story, but hits me where it hurts, because I've let the characters into my head. I've let them become me -- or at least a part of me -- and I can't look at it on a critical level and say "Wow, what a brave/brilliant/heartwrenching thing to do."

Yet I'm actually willing to write a story where a character dies; even the main character. Have, at least co-written. A) because it wasn't a character whom I identify with from the original media source (i.e. - I can kill Riley in a story because I'm neutral about him. I can't kill Xander because the show has already made him one of the characters whose eyes I can see through) and B) because I'm writing. I'm co-writing a story with zort where a main character eventually dies and another is devastated by it -- I can -- just -- handle this because we're *making* the story.

If I were reading a similar story, with the same characters being affected the same way? I would be horribly disturbed and wouldn't be able to think of it as just effective art. I get angry and sad, that someone would do such things to the characters I love, and to an extent, to me, insofar as I identify with the POV character and am experiencing the events of the story. And frustrated because I know objectively that I have no right to be angry at the author for doing these things, but I am -- at least temporarily. *

And *then* I go looking for things that are artistically wrong with the story, for my own peace of mind, so that I can prove to myself "See, that would never have happened, and this character never did feel right, therefore the bad events in the story weren't real." On that mental Heinlein scale of fictional reality, where every real person is fictional somewhere and vice versa -- or just on a completely subjective emotional feeling of realness.

So -- I'm very bad at talking about stories that affect me deeply, as art -- because I can't look at them as a thing, to be admired. If there's an incredibly well-placed dramatic death that ttally fucks with the reader's mind, and I say "Your story left me devastated and angry and heartbroken" and the author says "Hooray! That's what I was going for!" I find myself very glad that I'm not in range of throwing things at them. [edit see footnote 2] Because I don't *want* to be devastated and angry and heartbroken. I can be entertained by watching it happen to other people, characters I'm not so attached to, or by experiencing it and having the main character learn to deal with it -- but when the story ends with badness, when the point of the story is that badness happens and sometimes we can't do anything about it... I lose all concept of it as art. It's just a horrible experience that I didn't enjoy going through, and don't particularly like the idea that it *pleases* someone that I went through it.

Which is why I avoid character death stories like the plague, for the most part -- this was all about me and how I react to things, not about an author's responsibility to protect me. Yet, like I said -- as a writer -- I'm participating in a story that could affect other people in exactly the same way. Because it's art. Because I can. Because trying to evoke those emotions in other people (though hopefully only people who *like* having those emotions evoked in them, whereas I don't) makes me feel accomplished, if it works.


* And yet, I know there are writers who, when the bad things happen in their stories, aren't doing it to be true to Capital-A Art, but to be true to the story that's being told. People who have the characters living in *their* heads too. And man, that has *got* to suck - -when you don't want the characters to be unhappy, yet that's the way they *are*. I've done that a few times, and pulled them out of it, but there are situations where I'm afraid to write much more, for fear I'll do it again and not be able to fix it.

** 2: I think what I mean here is actually that if I say in my 5 year old voice: "I hate, you, bad mean author, you broke my Xander" in my head, then I see the author in some other forum, like LJ or onlist discussion or such, say "Yay, people were heartbroken!" then I feel like throwing things. I don't actually engage directly with an author or *try* to be critical in any way, at a point when I know I'm not ready to be rational about the story. Which does not mean that I have *never* done this. There's always a test case. It also doesn't mean that evil awkwardness doesn't arise when the 'bad mean author' is a friend, and I *can't* just go away and not talk about the story til I can be not upset, because they're actually sitting there asking me what I thought of it. Then I start looking for the escape pod and hiding under the desk. Someday I will learn to listen to the voice that says "Amy, don't read that story -- no, it doesn't matter who wrote it, don't read it. You will be mad and angry and sad and even small children and sad-faced mimes will laugh at you."


2003-04-24 05:54 pm (UTC) (Link)

I appreciate the fact that you are self aware enough to recognize how you react and how you view the stories. It does hurt to have the painful things living in your head, which is why I'm nearly terrified to touch one specific story because to get through to the good *both* Spike and Xander have to be destroyed and I just, I just *can't* because I'm afraid I can't fix it.

I don't see anything wrong with how you interact with the works, in fact, engaging someone deeply should be the goal of a writer. I have deep issues with people who feel there is a right and a wrong way to read and a right and a wrong way to respond. Fiction is personal. Response to fiction is personal. That's how it is.

And I'm done now.


2003-04-24 06:08 pm (UTC) (Link)

nearly terrified to touch one specific story because to get through to the good *both* Spike and Xander have to be destroyed and I just, I just *can't* because I'm afraid I can't fix it.

Welcome to [part of] my 2 year long writer's block on coughmumblemumble. Though in that case, it's that I took them so low that even though they're legitimately out of the bad, I don't know how to resolve where they *think* they are, without feeling cheap and feelgood and unreal.

coughmumblemumble - chocgood84, 2003-04-24 07:23 pm (UTC) (Expand)
Re: - alexandriabrown, 2003-04-25 06:39 am (UTC) (Expand)


2003-04-24 06:40 pm (UTC) (Link)

OK, I have problems with character death, too, but only when the ending doesn't resolve the death.

Take American Beauty. The death in that movie is sudden and unexpected by the time we get to it (even though it's foretold in the opening monologue), and a little painful, but the actions of the other characters makes you feel like in the end, it'll be all right. Besides, he died happy, which makes all the difference. Similarly, I can cope with Tara's death because she died where she wanted to be doing what she wanted to be doing, and because I know it didn't destroy anyone else, and because I know it didn't really destroy her, either.

But other movies, like Cube, have a great deal of superfluous character death (I'm just going to give it away because it's obvious from the beginning. EVERYONE DIES [except that one guy]). But they put the deaths of the two we actually identify with all the way at the end - as in, the last minute. Then they don't resolve it. I'm left with this bad taste in my mouth because their deaths were so superflous, so easily avoided, and so pointless.


2003-04-25 07:02 am (UTC) (Link)

Pointless deaths -- Tasha Yar, anyone?

But then, far too young and bitter at the time to judge if that was a reasonable thing to happen storywise, so everyone could show their dramatic chops in dealing with her death in a real way.

I'm also -- like everybody else -- biased towards the characters whom I really love, and who I identify with. I loved Tara, but didn't ID with her; thought she was almost too saintly for this world, in a non-sarcastic sense, and totally got why she had to die when and where she did. If they were to kill Giles, or Xander or Spike or Wes in some permanent way, I would be really messed up, no matter how integral it was to the story.

(no subject) - byrne, 2003-04-25 10:30 am (UTC) (Expand)
(no subject) - backfromspace, 2003-04-25 11:48 pm (UTC) (Expand)


2003-04-24 07:15 pm (UTC) (Link)

You don't know me, and uh, my head is in a completely different fandom than Buffy, right now, and this is may not make sense and certain is out of the blue, but...

You've articulated why I am so. damn. wary. of writing the most compelling story in my head right now. It's ugly, it hurts, and god almighty I don't want to see them ripped apart like that, because it'll only resolve to a place that doesn't hurt too badly right before the go to hell and back again and then that new hell resolves only when one of them dies (the death is canon). And that death does resolve a lot of other problems, but he's dead and I don't want him to be dead and the other character doesn't want him to be dead either.

I don't honestly know if I have the emotional fortitude to put them through it. And if I ever got it done, I wouldn't be able to say "yay! I'm glad I squicked you and raked you over the coals along with the characters" because it wouldn't be Art, it would be a Scream as part of my heart is ripped out.

As an editor, I can treat anything as Art, and tear it to shreds and do what I have to. That would be the only time I could ever treat it as Art because not only do I care about the characters too much, to write it, I would have to get into their heads, live in their heads.

And it's strange, knowing that there is a story that I may not be able to write, not because of a squick or a limitation in my abilities but because I can't disassociate from it and treat it as a work of art.


2003-04-25 07:07 am (UTC) (Link)

I titally get it.

Which is why I'm better with it in original fic (and better able to theoretically write it there too) -- I'm removed from the characters; either by virtue of not having known them for forever like fanfic characters (reading), or because I myself am not that great of a character creator, and don't really engage with my own characters like I do those that otehr people have created (writing).

When writing or reading fanfic, I care too much about certain characters to want to hurt them. I *want* them to be happy, and a story that doesn't give them some measure of hope (as the one I mentioned in the post does, I think) in the end... I don't care how pretty a thing it is, I don't want to do it to them.

(no subject) - manna, 2003-04-25 04:27 pm (UTC) (Expand)


2003-04-24 09:02 pm (UTC) (Link)

I think I'm having one of those "we share a brain" experiences here, because--

Yes! Yes yes yes yes yes!!!!

I've tried so many times to articulate these particular feelings and responses, but you've really nailed it. From now on, I shall refer people to this post at a particular point in conversations. Because--

You really nailed it.

((And this also explains why I was doomed from the start in my attempts to become an English professor -- you have to be able to appreciate all these horrible feelings that've been evoked and think it's cool or something, while I just rant and *spleen* about "ugly mean-spirited small people whining about their fictional lives" which doesn't become a Lit professor at all....))


2003-04-25 07:08 am (UTC) (Link)

You have the brain now, don't you?

[stares at thumbs and drools on keyboard]

(no subject) - djinanna, 2003-04-25 09:43 am (UTC) (Expand)


2003-04-25 05:31 am (UTC) (Link)

I also dislike death stories, and stories without happy endings for the characters I like. I usually check the end out to see if I'm going to like it before I read the story, unless I get assurances in the author's notes that everything will be okay. And even then I'm careful, because some writers have a very different definition of 'sentimental' or 'sappy' to me.

And I also have written stories where characters die, stories I wouldn't actually want to read. And they make me cry while I write them, sometimes enough to give myself a migraine. Why do I do it? Because I think they're good stories. Plus, I write Blakes 7 fanfic, which is The Everyone Dies Fandom where all happy endings are AU.

Outside Blakes, I once killed a character at the end of a long story, even though I really didn't want to do it to her. I tried to write alternative endings where she didn't die, and they just didn't work. Eventually I had to give up and accept it. The funny thing was that she was a character who isn't actually very likable. She's done some appalling things in her life. And I very much doubt that anyone but me will ever cry at her death.

Writing the ending made me cry. Going back to write earlier sections with her in made me cry even more, because *she* thought she was getting the happy ending she'd dreamed of all her life, and I knew the truth. Or maybe she *did* know, inside, and just didn't want to acknowledge it. I don't know, and I don't want to think about it too much -- I like to believe that she was happy, for a few weeks.

Okay, now I'm sounding weird. But, yes, she was very real, in my head, and I killed her because that was the way the story *had* to end. Anything else would've been a cop out and I would've *known* it was wrong, every time I read it.


2003-04-25 07:11 am (UTC) (Link)

Snicker -- my first slash [reading] fandom was B7. And yup, I was one of those happyfluffy people who wanted PGP stories where everyone miraculously survived. Or AU's that took a moment of stolen time that could've happened in canon and everything still gone to hell, and made it into happy AU-niverse instead. Or as happy as possible given the characters' broody, angsty nature.

I would read some of the generally depressing stories and recognise them as good art and in keeping with the tone of the series, but they didn't make me happy. (Mind you I wasn't as invested in the B7-verse as I am in the Buffyverse, so they didn't smack me down into depression, either.)

(no subject) - manna, 2003-04-25 04:28 pm (UTC) (Expand)
(no subject) - mpoetess, 2003-04-25 04:35 pm (UTC) (Expand)
(no subject) - byrne, 2003-04-25 10:34 am (UTC) (Expand)
(no subject) - manna, 2003-04-25 12:04 pm (UTC) (Expand)
Re: - byrne, 2003-04-25 12:14 pm (UTC) (Expand)
(no subject) - executrix, 2003-04-25 07:21 pm (UTC) (Expand)
(Deleted comment)


2003-04-25 07:13 am (UTC) (Link)

Badbadbadbad Emma! Hurt My Ticktick! Bad! (Also, can't decide whether it's TickTick or TickTock, but that's another issue I have with the Borderlandsverse.

Yes, I will read it when the author is very, very good. But I will ofetn be all the more irrationally angry with her as a result!


2003-04-25 08:57 am (UTC) (Link)

Now you made me ramble about why I do like that kind of thing. Damn you & your thought provoking essays! :)

And yet, I know there are writers who, when the bad things happen in their stories, aren't doing it to be true to Capital-A Art, but to be true to the story that's being told.

Huh. I don't get the "but", there. For me that's "and". Or maybe "because"? To me, art=true. Yeah, there's pretty things to do with words, & pretty is good, but pretty without true is like gilded garbage. They don't always come off, but I don't set out to tell any stories that don't ring true to me.

I don't detach from art when I'm reading it either (or watching it, or looking at it, or whatever.) If art doesn't move me emotionally, I don't much care how technically perfect it is -- it's got nothing to say, or nothing I can hear. To me, making it part of me is the proof that it works. If I'm not living it, it's dead, as far as I'm concerned.

(I'm exaggerating for effect here. In my youth I had a hard on for Brecht's Threepenny Opera, so I swallowed a lot of his theories about remind the viewer of the artificiality of the medium, detach critique detach. Also because they'd have allowed me to smoke in the theatre. But in the end, to me, that's about realism versus what I guess you might call impressionism. Either way, I still have to care, & I still need the artist to care.)

And god knows I have the characters living in my head. (Shut up in there, I'm writing to MP!) But I don't always want or need a happy ending for them. Or maybe I just don't mean the same thing by a happy ending. I want the characters to be themselves. I want them to grow & change & get stronger & wiser. I want them to confront & know & accept themselves, even the unpalatable parts. I want them to make, in the end, the right choices. To me that *is* a happy ending.

And if it's pain that's the catalyst which makes that happen -- and it often is -- I'm okay with that. That's the good pain to me, the bitter that makes the sweet sweeter. Even if they die or lose their loves or their friends or whatever was precious to them. Its the Angelus & Buffy conversation -- "What's left? Me." You don't find that out until you lose everything else. And it's worth it.

At least, to me as a reader & a writer it is. As a character, I want a nice boring story where we all get everything we want & settle down to enjoy it. (This is, incidentally, why the idea of God as artist is one of the few that doesn't make me want to bitch slap the guy. But that's another ramble and shall be told another time.)

I guess part of it for me is -- I *do* want to be devastated & angry & heartbroken. Or rather, I want to be *vicariously* devastated & angry & heartbroken, I want to be a *little* devastated & angry & heartbroken, and then go home for tea. Which is not something that works as well by going out and offering my actual heart to someone who doesn't particularly want it or know what to do with it.

I want to believe that which doesn't kill you makes you stronger, I want to believe in the power of that booby prize the Learning Experience, I want to survive terrible trials & become the sort of person who has looked on beauty & terror & been unafraid. But actually I'm the sort of person who looks on computer screens, & occasionally my cat.

So I want to look on other people's beauty & terror, & see if I can cheat & empathize my way in to a grander, sadder, more tragic & heroic universe than the one I actually live in. And sometimes that means pain. I wouldn't love LOTR so much if it were all the Shire, you know? I wouldn't love Aragorn, or Wesley, or Spike so much if they didn't hurt so hard. I want them to triumph over that, but I don't want to take it away.

The only stories I've read that disturb me the way it sounds like you're disturbed are the ones where I feel like the characters themselves, not just their lives and surroundings, are destroyed; that they're not themselves any more, not because they're OOC to start with, but because the author started them in character & then broke them & scattered the peices so the phoenix couldn't rise. There's a Buffy/Wesley, I wish I could remember the author or the name, that did that to me. But it's rare.



2003-04-25 09:32 am (UTC) (Link)

And yet, I know there are writers who, when the bad things happen in their stories, aren't doing it to be true to Capital-A Art, but to be true to the story that's being told.

Huh. I don't get the "but", there. For me that's "and". Or maybe "because"? To me, art=true. Yeah, there's pretty things to do with words, & pretty is good, but pretty without true is like gilded garbage. They don't always come off, but I don't set out to tell any stories that don't ring true to me.

I guess what I mean is, there are writers who are more about telling the story (or listening to the characters) as it appears in their head, because it's a compulsion, and they do personally care about the characters and what happens to them, perhaps as much or more than I the reader do.

Vs. writers who are excellent crafters of stories, but come in with the *intent* of writing a story that does this and this and this to the reader. They can use the characters beautifully to achieve that end, and they understand the motivations and emotions of the characters, but they're not being pushed and pulled and torn apart by them. I know writers (coughbyrnecough) of the first sort, and I do it myself with certain stories. I've seen stories that I suspect are by writers of the second sort, and read commentary about writing that seems to reflect that frame of mind -- and again, I do it myself on stories where the characters aren't the ones who are as near and dear to my heart as others.


The only stories I've read that disturb me the way it sounds like you're disturbed are the ones where I feel like the characters themselves, not just their lives and surroundings, are destroyed; that they're not themselves any more, not because they're OOC to start with, but because the author started them in character & then broke them & scattered the peices so the phoenix couldn't rise.

Those are the ones that get to me the most. Where they're just left shattered. I'll accept a lot for the sort of learning experiences you're talking about -- but when the only learning experience at the very end is "Life sucks and then you die" -- then I lose it.

I think maybe my lines of where that's the main message are just different from (more self-defensive than, possibly) yours. I tend to hate stories about appreciating the beauty of that one moment -- Spike letting Xander grow old and die because his humanity is so much a part of him that Spike couldn't take it away (not talking evil soulless Xander as a result, just "Xander would never want to be a vampire so I won't even bring it up") and it's all the more sweet for being temporary... bleh! That reads to me as "Life sucks, teases you with moments of happiness then takes them away, and then you die. Or live forever unhappy."

I think when I say I hate death and unhappy-ending stories, I seem more self-sheltering than I am. I'll watch the characters I care about go through *all* sorts of soul-destroying crap. As long as they can recover from it; as long as there's hope.

(no subject) - djinanna, 2003-04-25 09:41 am (UTC) (Expand)
(no subject) - stakebait, 2003-04-25 10:00 am (UTC) (Expand)
(no subject) - wesleysgirl, 2003-04-25 10:33 am (UTC) (Expand)
(no subject) - mpoetess, 2003-04-25 11:00 am (UTC) (Expand)
(no subject) - stakebait, 2003-04-25 11:12 am (UTC) (Expand)
(no subject) - wolfling, 2003-04-25 11:10 am (UTC) (Expand)
(no subject) - stakebait, 2003-04-25 11:16 am (UTC) (Expand)
(no subject) - wolfling, 2003-04-25 01:53 pm (UTC) (Expand)
(no subject) - stakebait, 2003-04-25 02:13 pm (UTC) (Expand)
(no subject) - mpoetess, 2003-04-25 11:17 am (UTC) (Expand)
(no subject) - stakebait, 2003-04-25 11:38 am (UTC) (Expand)
(no subject) - zortified, 2003-04-25 09:55 am (UTC) (Expand)
(no subject) - stakebait, 2003-04-25 10:10 am (UTC) (Expand)


2003-04-25 05:39 pm (UTC) (Link)

Had a reply, it got long, I put it in my LJ