Creative versus Showy, Classic versus Commercial

Here’s an analogy to start us off: When I was in alternative school I played a lot of chess with the other students. At the time I was actually pretty good, and thus I was the de facto master for my time there. At one point a few of the others would try t make nice-looking formations of pieces that didn’t serve a purpose in winning the game. In some cases their moves would end up costing them the game.

Showiness can be like the use of these intricate yet largely pointless movements. Though often less innocent, it is usually as inefficient. A utilitarian approach is often effective in a way that isn’t particularly pretty. I think this is even true in art much of the time.

In fiction I’d equate showiness with overconfidence (in essence every writer who has an overly complex plan for story or structure of a piece), but also with a lack of confidence.

In my case I’ve suffered from both at different times. In my overconfident phases I’ve been guilty of thinking every trick of the setting or involvement between character and theme is golden. My second novel ever was a great victim of this, in particular. I had set out with an elaborate mystery and a relatively complex but broken family relationship. But it all made no sense because I couldn’t deliver on the characters, the primary workhorses of the story. This was almost all born from overconfidence, and a desire to be fantasy’s new Earnest Hemingway and therefore seeing no need to explain enough of the story. Hemingway got away with minimalism, but it isn’t right for every writer or even every story of a given writer.

As far a lack of confidence, this will often lead to hammering the reader on the head with an idea or theme so as to keep the story firmly in their mind. I don’t think I’ve swung as far this way as I have toward overconfidence at any point, but one good example from published fiction of someone who comes close is Khaled Hosseini’s novel, the Kite Runner. The book makes its themes clear with the force and subtlety of a runaway train, often reiterating parallels explicitly. In this case it doesn’t ruin the book, but in fact, renders it more accessible (a generally positive trait). The issue of going so far is that the writer risks making the book trivial to more skilled and experienced readers. While that’s hardly a concern from a commercial standpoint, it does make the book less rereadable, less classic.

As I may have mentioned here before, I was once accused of wanting to a write a classic. I didn’t say it at the time, but my reply really should have been: “So what?” Shouldn’t all writers aspire to something greater than they are at the time? Especially when unpublished I find that my striving for greater heights becoming a target criticism baffling. In context it seems that the one who said it had already given up on his creative drive, that of music, in favor of a secure job. While there’s nothing wrong with that, it only supports my opinion that the critic was more influenced by money than by quality. But adding flourishes wouldn’t make a book a classic, unless they are executed perfectly. It is important to have a realistic view of one’s own ability, but also to push oneself to further heights.

Today return to writing the rough draft of a young adult novel that is near completion. I hope you all are well, whenever you read this. Attitude is a lot of life. Consider going easier on yourself if you’re under personal pressure.


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