First off, I’m short on reviews right now. I haven’t made it to a lot of new places or tried a lot of wines or cocktails in the past couple of weeks. I’ve got a couple in mind for this week, but it’ll be a few days before I go, review, and write things up anyhow. Apologies for the shift in content, but I’d rather keep posting than not!
Secondly, I don’t read about writing a lot. There are lots of writers out there who’ve read every book on the subject. It’s also extremely popular blogging material. From what I can tell, writing about writing seems to generate a huge amount of interest. I think it’s bizarre, and just something I can’t get into. I can’t watch musicals or movies that are about a musical or movie (yes, nearly all of the musicals-movies of the 30s through 50s, you fit this bill), either. Call it one of my quirks, if you will. But today, I’m blogging about writing.
Don’t get worried that I’m going to start doing this regularly (unless you’d rather I did; then you should probably just scurry along to another blog, one of the gazillion out there on the subject). This post is an exception. It’s not even about writing, really; it’s about a style of writing that I hate but is increasingly showing up everywhere I look.
I call it Thesis Fiction. Thesis Fiction is when a writer decides to pepper their work with obvious references to other literary, pop cultural, or historical figures and ideas to show the world that they are good at synthesizing information, that they understand how everything is interconnected, and gosh darn it, they are so smart to be able to put it all together and make a narrative of it. Here is how I would write a sentence of Thesis Fiction:
With a resignation more fierce than Kilgore Trout’s, he opens his arms to the rain and yells, “Posterity!” thus completing the ritual he’s been trying to avoid ever since he first set foot in that Dionysian pit of a liquor store and released the hounds of Hades with the opening of a Fanta can; must all men come to this once their Arwens start losing the sheen of their immortality?
Or in other words, like any episode of Lost. Okay, that’s not fair; Lost, at least, treats these references as Easter eggs and doesn’t force people to understand them to grasp the plotline. I’m not talking about merely throwing in the occasional reference to real people, brands, or places, either. That can help establish time and place effectively in modern or historical fiction. What I’m talking about is writing in a way that your narrative, plot, or characters’ actions are obviously drawing on past books, theories, or people, so obviously that you directly reference what you are drawing on to create your own work.
Now, I’m not saying that everything we write needs to be an utterly pure, new work that does not draw on past thoughts and masterpieces—that would be impossible. I’m a firm believer that there is no new thing under the sun. What I’m saying is that it’s possible to draw on other works without explicitly saying so in your own. Without treating your fictional narrative as if it were the culmination of twenty years of education, and you won’t get your degree unless you show your superior grasp of the theoretical material in ways that will get you brownie points from the dissertation committee. Your readers are not a panel of professors looking to make sure you hit all the right notes. I guess what I’m calling for is more subtlety.
My rant, however, doesn’t hold much merit as I know this style of writing is very popular with a lot of readers and viewers. Heck, people get insanely excited when a movie like 500 Days of Summer references the Smiths or someone’s actions are likened to Boom Boom from Welcome Back, Kotter. So you’d really only be putting me off by continuing to write your Thesis Fiction, and you can afford to lose my $10.50. What I’m really saying is that I need to put down the book I’m reading and step away, but gosh darn it, I always have to finish the ones I start. It’s a curse. You know, like in Harry Potter, with those horcruxes?
Posted: Tuesday, May 11th, 2010 @ 11:39 am
Categories: Discussion, writing.
Tags: all of neal stephenson's work, blogging on writing, cultural references, historial references, thesis fiction, writing.
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