Francine - harvest
I Blame the Dutch mpoetess
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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."


2003-04-25 11:10 am (UTC) (Link)

I'm definitely over in MP's camp on this issue.

I can read well written death stories and unhappy ending stories and appreciate them from a writer's pov, as a well crafted and put together story. But I don't like these stories and I don't read them when certain characters that I identify more strongly with than others are involved.

I tend to be the same for both writing and reading: I can put characters through angst and hurt and all of that, but I need to give them a happy, or at least a hopeful ending. This desire for me is so strong that I have occasionally written "fixit" fics for other people's stories (with permission) that did leave the characters in an unhappy place. I've been guilty of, when writing a story, seeing a way that it could end that would strong and breathtaking and painful but instead twisting the story so I can give them a happy ending. I just couldn't do that to the characters, even if it might have been a stronger story for the unhappy ending.

Yes, in real life, loss and death and tragedy and unhappiness are all realities and we have to deal with them and live with them, perhaps even as the ultimate outcome. But it's not something I want to read about. I'd much rather read a story about Spike and Xander finding a way to stay together regardless than a story about "that perfect moment when Spike lets Xander die." To me, that's not a perfect moment. It's Xander dying. It's loss and grief and even if there was no other choice, it's hurt. Especially in a situation with a vampire and a human, who we're not sure are going to the same afterlife place (especially pre souled Spike) and so this is ending is forever.

It may be real, but I don't want to read it.

And it doesn't matter how much other people love those kind of stories or want to experience vicariously that kind of pain. They can state their opinions and how gorgeously it's told and how real and how pretty it hurts. It's not going to make me suddenly like to read these kind of stories.

I certainly won't be writing them; there's always going to be hope at the end of my stories for the characters if not out and out happiness. I don't think that makes me any less of a reader or a writer. It's just a preference, and one that isn't going to change, or that I see a need to change.


2003-04-25 11:16 am (UTC) (Link)

I don't think that makes me any less of a reader or a writer. It's just a preference, and one that isn't going to change, or that I see a need to change.

Oh, dear. I certainly didn't mean to say that it did. I don't think any of this means that anybody is less of anything. I was just talking about why I felt differently -- I didn't mean to imply that y'all should too.



2003-04-25 01:53 pm (UTC) (Link)

That last paragraph of my post wasn't really directed at you specifically; more an assertment that's come out of having this discussion before and the attitude that had been directed towards me and others with my opinion to that kind of angst/unhappy endings that somehow we're lesser readers, or unable to handle reality or some such rot.

I do think this kind of thing is totally just preference and not something that any amount of discussion can change a person's view on. I understand intellectually that there are some people who like death stories, who even seek them out, who like seeing the characters put through the wringer and don't care if they're put back together afterwards.

But emotionally? I just can't get into their shoes. I think maybe because I identify too closely with the characters, get too far into their heads. To me, reading a death story about a character I'm that close to, such as Giles in Buffy fandom, would be like reading a death story about a friend. It's just... icky.


2003-04-25 02:13 pm (UTC) (Link)

*phew* That's a relief. I worried, because you seemed offended, and I do try not to insult my friends. Particularly when I agree with them. It's preference, not precedence. Why should you read what you don't like? I'm not going to make assumptions about what you can't handle -- and I wouldn't say you were lesser even if you couldn't. Fic's not an endurance contest.

And I don't suppose any amount of discussion *would* change anyone's views, but then I'm not trying to. I just like to know why people think what they think, and I like to talk about what I think that's different, 'cause sometimes it helps me understand me better.

I just figured, since MP had the no side well in hand, that I'd say a few words for yes as my own preference. I don't want the characters to suffer, and yet I love them in part for how they bear up under suffering, and so I tend to enjoy reading it. And watching it, for that matter. I wouldn't care for the Buffy characters half so much as I do if it weren't for how I've watched them pay the price for saving the world over and over.

I dunno how I'd feel about angst in a fandom where the canon itself was less angsty -- I can't imagine anything more disturbing than a Rugrats deathfic -- but in this one since its such a big part of what I like about the show, I like it in the fanfic too.

Then again, my favorite Shakespeare Play is King Lear and my favorite fantasy novel, at the moment anyway, is Tigana, and they both have some serious body counts. It's possible I'm just a morbid little fuck.