Warning: The following discusses one of the blogger’s hobbyhorses. Do not be alarmed by ranting, pulling-out of hair, or similarly insane behavior.
Ah, the joys of a new school year. This morning, I was attempting to research American Literature courses to help Mom put together my reading list, and you know what I found? Heaps upon heaps of the most revered cerebral classics of all time. In other words, the stuff I hate. Not that I consider intelligent literature bad, mind you. Definitely not. I was overjoyed to find some perfectly brilliant books and short stories on the list by authors who manage to put thought-provoking concepts into something with an actual plot outside of the preachery (such as Edgar Allan Poe and Mark Twain), and I certainly consider those good.
What I don’t like is the tendency of the literary world at large to think anything light-hearted or anything without an overbearing, prophetic, or bittersweet theme is complete drivel. I just don’t get it. If it isn’t cryptic, over fifty years old, and includes horrendous amounts of dramatic deaths, shocking elements, or dystopian prophecies, then the author’s a hack, the work is garbage, and its readers are uneducated. Or at least according to literature professors and creative writing majors. There are such things as happy themes, you know. People could learn just as much, if not more, from something actually uplifting rather than a social commentary highlighting the sorry moral state of our current society. The amount of success such things have is utterly baffling to me. Particularly since authors who include both elements in their work tend to also be highly successful.
True, it feels a lot more artsy and avante garde and elitist to write sad, heartrending epics than it is to write a nice, cozy comedy. I know, because I felt immensely accomplished after killing off two characters in the space of a single chapter and that was even without inputting a poetic theme. Scary, no?
In a nutshell, the problem lies in all of us taking ourselves way too seriously. Isn’t the point of writing supposed to be simple storytelling, anyways? We’re entertainers. Chroniclers of our times. If we’re too busy figuring out new ways to write the next classic American allegorical novel which happens to pay brilliant homage to F. Scott Fitzgerald, we’re not really doing our job as writers to be creative. To do new things! To encourage learning and exploration and all manner of fantastic endeavors. And most so-called classics make me want to go curl up and die rather than go do something good.
So, rant is over…here are ways to help cut out some of that seriousness.
1. Go Watch Doctor Who
Or read Mark Twain or Sir Arthur Conan Doyle. All three are great examples of how to do it right. They all keep a balance between humor and drama, and there’s always something to learn from them, as it should be with all fiction. Balance. Is. Essential.
2. Reread your current work
If you’ve gone a full chapter without single flash of brightness or humor, methinks you might want to stick in a knock-knock joke or a banana peel or something. Whatever style of humor happens to fit with your narrative voice.
3. Read Literary Fiction
…until you’re sick of it and you can get an idea of what you like and don’t like about it. It can show you how to handle the dramatic passages, as well as where a little bright moment would be appreciated.
4. Let Someone Else Review Your Work
Preferably a trusted friend with a decent eye for books. They can tell you what audiences like and don’t like about their fiction. Not that this should be the final word on your piece; it is after all, yours, and you should stay true to your voice. Unless your voice stinks. In which case…work on it. Also, having someone who’s a bit more literary, preferably a fellow writer, look over your work as well can help point out places where you actually need to insert a bit of the professional high-falutin’-writing-major stuff.