I’m writing to go off on a bit of a rant. (I know, what’s new?)
Some afternoons, after my work is mostly filed away for the day, I usually hit youtube and listen to a few podcasts. I like to follow writer vlogs, and watch panel interviews. I try to at least click on one or two vlogs from people I’ve never heard of before, because that’s how one finds new, mad-awesome channels and points of views.
Every now and then I’ll click on some one’s channel where they give out writing advice, however. (Don’t get me wrong the majority of these channels are very good, have writers who love their genre and respect the process.) But, (BUT!) sometimes I find some one who confounds me. The advice is, for lack of a better word, tacky.
(For the sake of being a good person, I will not, and will never, link to these videos.)
My problem with some of these advice videos is that they give out very stereotypical, slightly patronizing advice ab0ut genre fiction.
Example: “To write good horror, make sure your bad guys is, like, really creepy, or has something really ugly about him, so everyone knows he’s the guy you are suppose to be afraid of!” (Trope-enough for ya?)
“Now, you can’t have an epic fantasy without a wizard, am I right? It isn’t fantasy if there isn’t a wizard or at least some guy who can do magic!” (So, screw everyone who is not Tolkien, a devotee of his, writes in a sub-genre…or just doesn’t like magic users.)
“Science fiction should always fully explain the science behind everything they are doing, no matter what! People read science fiction for the realism. If they didn’t want to think too hard, they’d read fantasy.” (Space Opera doesn’t exist in this person’s world, nor does cognitive surrealism, or P.K. Dick. And, nice stab at fantasy readers. Calling a potential audience dummies is a real win-win.)
You get the gist.
The problem with these types of advice is that it implies one of two things about the vlogger: either they are uneducated/unread in the genre they are talking about, or they disrespect/dislike the genre the are trying to give advice about. Or, worse off, both.
I really can’t see anyone who is well-read in fantasy insisting that it isn’t epic fantasy unless there is a wizard. I also can’t see any bibliophile of horror who would insist that it is a good idea to make such a trope-a-licious baddy…but, all three statements above are paraphrases of actual videos I’ve watched on genre fiction. I’m especially peeved off that the statements just don’t imply that it is a good idea to follow that advice, but it is imperative to doing the genre correctly. Any lover of fantasy, sci-fi or horror knows better.
And, as a fan, writer, avid genre-nerd, these types of statements sort of make me feel insulted. I’m the audience. These statements are disrespecting my interest in these genres. Disrespecting my consumption and preferences in the genre.
It is like if you had an old lady next to you, turned to her and said, “Oh, you are an old lady. I obviously understand what old ladies are into based upon my own preconceptions of you. Hey, here’s some yarn, knit me a sweater, grandma! That’s what old ladies love! Knitting shit!”
That statement sort of sist the same with me as, “You know what fantasy has to have? WIZARDS!”
You see, an assumption is being made with no real information to back it up. It is all based upon a vague idea, or stereotype, of what they think horror, or sci-fi, or fantasy is suppose to be.
What speculative fiction fans know:
Sci-fi doesn’t always have to be technical–you are allowed a little handwavium, and it is completely justified to have a few zippers showing on the lizard-men’s suits, or for a few of the rocks they are throwing to be Styrofoam. It is also okay for it to be highly technical, or surreal, or military, or gritty.
Fantasy doesn’t have to have wizards, or even magic for that matter. It is okay if it blurs the lines between horror, or sci-fi. It is okay for it to be more technical than sci-fi in explaining its magic system, or as vague in explaining itself as it likes. And, if you do have a wizard, he doesn’t have to fight demi-gods on Middle Earth. It is perfectly acceptable for him to be one step ahead of the cops in Chicago.
Horror also doesn’t have to be gruesome or grotesque. It can be beautiful. It can be fantastical. It can be scientific. It can make you pee yourself, or it can choose to disquiet and pick at your brain more than it pulls at your guts. Enemies can be hidden in plain sights, help can be disguised as villains. There is no one horror.
When you make those stereotypical, unread statements like the ones above, what you are doing is talking down to the genre’s audience. I’ve seen some of these opinions translate into people writing fiction that talks down to the audience, and disrespect the genre. When I’ve asked authors to elaborate on what they read, 10/10 times they say they don’t regularly read the genre they are writing in. They read literary fiction and the great classics, and thought their expertise in prose would add something that genre fiction was lacking. (Because, having not read sci-fi or fantasy, they know first hand how nonliterary and lacking in art all sci-fi and fantasy must be, right?)
But, the absolute most grievous thing I’ve ever heard was an author tell me that she chose to write midde-grade and YA because it would be easier. She wanted to write literary, but then decided to write stories for kids because it would be easier, because they are kids and the language and stories they read are simpler. (This person has yet to find a buyer for her manuscripts, and opted to self-publish. So, no I won’t be sharing their name or link…because that is rude.)
What. The. Fuck.
That is the definition of disrespecting your audience. “I’ll write for kids because they aren’t as sophisticated as adults. They expect less of me.”
My YA, middle-grade writer friends know how untrue this statement is. It isn’t easier!
In my humble opinion, there is a greater pressure when writing for kids. I mean, they are our kids! They deserve the best. The best education, the most inspiring, the biggest key to unlock their potential. We are crafting the citizens they will become someday. The choices we make, the things we put in their hands to consume, have the potential to decide whether or not they will excel or fall. Learn to think, or to blindly follow. Know empathy, or be emotionally stagnant. What they consume is of great importance. And, to just not care? To write stuff for them thinking it will be less pressure on you to do a good job. There should be more pressure.
So, no offense to vloggers, but this sucks.
Disrespecting your genre, and indirectly your audience is probably the one sin in writing I’m finding unforgivable. Either you love it, and are a part of that audience, or you are not.
Earn your audience.