A week or so ago, there was a debate going around the ex-Inkie-Figgie community about whether or not the YA genre (young adult, for the non-term savvy) and books in general hold any sort of literary value these days. By literary value, I mean books that contain the kind of stuff you’d read about in English class: allegories, symbolism, deeper themes, complex plot structures. Books like Lord of the Flies or The Great Gatsby are highly regarded as works with great literary value.
It got me thinking. Is writing to entertain wrong? Should every work of fiction strive to be the next Scarlet Letter or the next great Shakespearean play?
Here’s my personal philosophy on this debate: You should write what you’re passionate about.
Let’s face it. The books that are getting popular these days, with some notable exceptions, are-and this is debatable-void of much apparent literary merit. Does that mean you’re doomed to wallow in a shroud of oscurity if you write something more artistic? Of course not! The fact that we’re having this debate means that there are still a demand for true literary excellence. This is why awards like the Pulitzer and the Nobel Prize in Literature exist.
The thing is though, it’s not as easy as sitting down and saying to yourself, “I’m going to write the next great work of art.” That’s like sitting down and saying, “I’m going to write the next Hunger Games.” This is where writing what you’re passionate about comes in.
What should go through your head is something more like, “I want to write a story that comes from my heart. It may be derivative of another book, but I’ve got a few ideas to change it up.” After all, no one got successful by doing what everyone else was doing. The books that we regard as classics today were new ideas when they were first published.
Here’s another idea: know your audience and your market. Who are you trying to reach? What are the publishers looking for?
The majority of readers and publishers are looking at story first. They want to read a book with a plot (sometimes a really loose plot), not their required reading for college.
Now this should also come after you write the story. Again, write what you love first, then try to find your niche. There will be someone out there who wants to read your book. You just have to know where to find him or her.
Finally, art and entertainment are not two separate entities. They can coexist together. Everyone has a favorite classic novel. Mine is Brave New World. It has a lot to say about genetic engineering and the dangers of complacency, but at the same time, it’s a great story as well with great characters and energy (I have a huge crush on John the Savage).
For a more recent example, The Hunger Games is hugely popular right now, and while I personally don’t care for it, I have to admit that it does have some good things going for it, such as its themes of the effects of war. Many people also enjoy its story.
That’s the fun of being an author. You get to put your thoughts out for a public to read and enjoy. You get to share experiences with a wide array of people. Connecting with people is a lot easier when you’re honest and true to yourself. Whatever happens out in the big wide world happens. Life is short. Why waste it struggling to write something that isn’t yours?
(First post. Woot woot!)