Born to be wild
As readers and viewers, we’re concerned. As storytellers ourselves, we’re alarmed. What has happened to storytelling?
Storytelling was once about simple characters who were bigger than life. It was about ideas that rang true. Story was about actions and decisions both awe-inspiring and also devastating.
Story was once wild. But no more. The professionals have tamed it.
How did the professionals tame story? Through the following:
Some Hollywood types got together and said, “What if we sped up traditional storytelling? We’ll skip to the good parts and leave out the work and disappointment. What if every story was a guilty pleasure?”
The fans loved it. How refreshing! This is the way things should have been.
Story was once wild. But no more. The professionals have tamed it.
Now we have the result: the audience is getting soft. Who can go back to stories being wild? Years after the “great story hack,” we’re concerned that we’ve gotten comfortable with manufactured stories. What’s a manufactured story? It’s where everything works contrary to the reality of the world we live in.
What’s real anymore?
We’re concerned that phony narratives are desensitizing us to what’s true and real. Stories were once wild because they mirrored reality. You got some things you wanted in a story. You were denied other things. The result was bittersweet. We used to say a good book or movie was “like life.” And it was a compliment.
We used to say a good book or movie was “like life.”
Regrettably, movies and books today work like video games. They’re made so the audience feels in control. It’s a false sense of security, clever psychology. The entertainment industry can make an audience feel in control for 90 minutes, or a reader for 7-10 hours. Are these people actually in control? Nope. None of us are.
Narrative art is supposed to be about the lives we have to live, not only the lives we want to live.
We’re not in control because life doesn’t work that way. Narrative art is supposed to be about the lives we have to live, not only the lives we want to live. We’re supposed to look for how life works. It’s how we get the most out of it.
What history favors
We find ourselves in a dark age of storytelling. Many have abandoned realistic portrayals of life. It isn’t just our opinion. Look at the stories that history favors.
Shakespeare’s plays were about normal places and usual people. Shakespeare told it straight. He didn’t idealize his subjects. At a time when the king had God-like power, Shakespeare wrote about the limitations of kings. We watched as every infallible ruler, from Lear to Macbeth, was reduced to a mortal human.
If we didn’t get the message, Shakespeare says it outright:
All the world’s a stage,
And all the men and women merely players
Shakespeare should be long-forgotten in today’s climate. Where is the Gary Stu? Is Macbeth a franchise? And yet, Hollywood still makes movies out of his plays.
Regardless of the backward values of today’s storytelling, we see that honest writing is valued by history. Enduring themes… endure.
We think the answer to soft storytelling is, well, loud writing.
What does it mean to write loud? (Is it even grammatical?) Writing loud means examining life’s uncomfortable topics. It means raising the stakes in a story, and heightening the intensity, so we don’t just read the words, we feel their effects.
Writing loud means examining life’s uncomfortable topics.
‘Writing loud’ isn’t irresponsible posturing. It’s not about putting curse words into your book titles which New York publishers have been doing as a fancy new thing.
It’s quite interesting. New York publishers have long accused indie writers of being sophomoric and unprofessional. This is how New York writes loud. Is it anything new or the same old message with swear words?
People are more broken than robots
Forget gimmicks. We believe the most important subject that a book can tackle is peoples’ inner lives.
We love tech and sci-fi. And yet, the plot devices of most modern sci-fi stories are so far removed from real life, we can’t care anymore. The implications of imagined alternate realities, the coming enslavement of the human race by sentient AI; no thanks. They don’t interest us nearly as much as whether a 17th-century king should obey his devious wife.
We believe the most importat subject that a book can tackle is peoples’ inner lives.
Great books show us, the key to a memorable narrative lies inside. Our interior feelings, habits, beliefs, vices, and virtues—they’re the sum total of our humanity. These days, our inner selves are more inaccessible than the farthest reaches of outer space.
How so? Between our conscious selves and our inner selves are many protective layers. Religion, culture, gender, race, all describe an aspect of ourselves. And yet, we believe there’s something more foundational inside of us, something both unique and shared. It’s one reason why so many different people have embraced the great books of history.
The classics prove it
Classic books are handed down from generation to generation when they should be discarded. Why? After all, the classics are filled with past events that read like a history textbook. Even a legendary novel like Les Miserables requires following along with a historical setting that may be difficult. But these books endure. The classics speak to something inside us. We don’t want to let them go.
The classics speak to something inside us. We don’t want to let them go.
At The Writing Thing Press, we explore the inner-self through fiction, nonfiction, and memoir. The stories we tell vary. If our books share anything, it’s the questions they ask about who we are and what it means to choose.
This mission used to be obvious. Now it’s bucking the system. The current trend in book publishing is to stay external. Books take place in a great, impressive world. Novelists offer us bullet-proof heroes while nonfiction writers tell us, we’re fine. It’s everyone else who is crazy. These books are protective of the inner-self. They guard against the reader thinking internally. Today’s book publishers don’t put out literature but flattery.
Publishing flattery vs. publishing literature
We all know flattery sells. People will pay to hear the news that they’re fine. They’ll enjoy living vicariously through powerful fictional characters. Modern stories are so polished and stimulating, books have become another power fantasy. New York publishers are stockholder-driven. They couldn’t resist the lucrative game of Hollywood blockbusters.
Some view an exploration of the inner-self as revealing, refreshing, even exciting.
Some readers still want to be stimulated in the old literary way. A book filled with easy answers is a waste of their time. Some view an exploration of the inner-self as revealing, refreshing, even exciting. We publish books for these readers.
For those who are more comfortable with ‘external’ books, we would say this. With technology making everything faster and easier, there really isn’t anything you don’t know. There isn’t anything you can’t have. There isn’t anything you can’t do or experience. The external world has, in some ways, been conquered. What’s left is the inside—the overlooked, ignored, even uncomfortable parts of ourselves. What makes us tick?
History’s loudest writers
When something’s experimental, it’s often noise to most people. When something’s personal, everyone can relate.
Dostoevsky wrote in this personal way. He’s like Shakespeare, another ancient marvel who is widely read today. Dostoevsky wrote so loud(ly), he delights modern readers and confounds some critics.
One of his fiercest critics in the 20th century was Russian-American writer Vladimir Nabokov. There was something about Dostoevsky that Nabokov didn’t like. It could have been the depth of suffering of Dostoevsky’s characters. It might have been the intense moral dilemmas they faced. Nabokov was not a fan of loud writing.
Dostoevsky would win this battle (from the grave). It seems Nabokov’s savage criticism of his countryman so alienated the faculty of Harvard that Nabokov was denied a teaching position there. Instead, he had to teach at Cornell. (You ever heard of it?)
Anyone who has read Dostoevsky knows, he can elicit emotions you didn’t know were possible while reading. With Dostoevsky, you can feel sensitive, shy, even vulnerable in your own skin. He does this by exposing the inner lives of his characters. He shares their private hopes, their stubborn faults, their fatal flaws. It puts us on the defensive.
A visceral reaction
We react to Dostoevsky as to a sudden noise. That’s loud writing.
How can we invest so fully in the actions of a fictional character? It’s the magic of narrative. It’s possible for us to empathize with emotions outside of ourselves and relate them to our own feelings and problems. If you think about it, it’s a miracle.
Not everyone likes this. For a number of readers, being thoughtfully stimulated is triggering. It doesn’t lead to reflection or to a personal epiphany. It sends people running in the other direction. Intense experiences scare some people.
In classical music, composers will often note the dynamic sense of a passage. There’s a place for pianissimo (very soft) and fortissimo (very loud) on every bookshelf. Beethoven’s Fifth Symphony begins with this musical notation:
Allegro con brio – At a fast tempo, and with spirit (literally ‘with brillance’).
It’s the notation we place at the top of every page we write. Care to jam with us? Check out our store.
This post first appeared at The Writing Thing Press.