Modernizing Fiction and Emotional Disconnects with Readers

Please note– I know it’s been a god-awful amount of time since my last post.  This has been a topic I’ve wanted to discuss for months and finally have the time to dedicate to writing blog posts again.  It feels like a bit of a rant–I suppose it is.

Lately I’ve found myself very critical of the modern ficition being pumped out into the literary world.  After a few too many books, I began to question if some authors are secretly endorsing products mentioned in their novels.  Ok not really, but have you ever noticed the overwhelming amount of branding there are in some novels?  I can assure you that if you were to flip open any young adult novel at a Barnes and Noble, the main character will at least mention a few labels.  Whether it’s the Levi Jeans they’re wearing or the iPhone in their back pocket, there’s going to be a mention of some major label in there.  I know we want the readers to connect with the protagonist and supporting characters, but really?  Can we not just connect to these characters on a purely human/emotional level?  Do we really need product placement?

I’ve never read a scene and thought to myself “oh yeah I can relate to her disappointment that she received a Hummer rather than a  Porsche.”  It’s the same sort of disconnect you have watching soap operas.  There is no correlation between these characters and your own personal dilemmas.  Their struggles are entirely different than the average viewers.  I’m not the owner of a multi-million dollar fashion house, nor do any of my family have such connections.  I also seem to recall that I haven’t married the same man 14 times and been married to at least six other men.  Sure I’ve suffered heart break, but not in the way these characters have.

Don’t get me wrong, I’m okay with product labeling to a certain degree.  I think in some ways, it is better to just describe items in a creative way, rather than mention labels.  Describe them in fine detail, to allow the reader a sense of how they look visually.  Just telling me it’s a Vera Wang does give me the faintest clue what I should be envisioning and only gives me an idea of the extravagant costs. If that is the purpose of mentioning the brand, that is fine.   Use labels to express a point–not just throw out names because “people will know these labels!”  An author once said something along the lines of “every word should serve a purpose.”  It’s a good practice.

If I were to publish a book now and list off a couple of major brands, who is to say those brands will exist in fifty or one hundred years?  Anyone reading the book that far in the future may have no idea what this label is–for all they know it’s fiction.  No matter the decade a book is written, I want people to connect to it.  Not by superficial brands that hold no real significance.   Not because smart phones are all the rage.  What has happened to characters and people relating by life?  Emotional conflicts?  Understanding and relating to their struggles?  What is your view on product labeling in fiction?  Do you find it acceptable or is it a nuisance?  How often do you use branding in your own work?

I’m not dead. . .kinda

I’m sure there will be some notice that I haven’t updated this blog in a while.  After a nice fun and busy-filled four day weekend at Flock, I spent the next week catching up on sleep and resting my sore legs.  Just when I thought I was feeling great, I pulled a muscle in my hand after some very poor packing by a cashier at the grocery store (gotta love lazy packing!).  So yes, much ouchies!  For a few days I was unable to do much of anything on the computer and what I did achieve was done with mostly the use of my non-injured hand.  Very slow work.   What did that leave me to do most of the time?  Try to sleep and read.  Not that I have been getting much of either.  My family is crazy! 🙂

I have three posts I’ve been working on for the last month or so.  One is my view on modernizing fiction and how some authors tend to go overboard.  I won’t go too much into this now, as this topic is for later and I don’t have the mental grasp to sit here and focus on a full blog post.  Another is inspirations for writing, the good and the odd.  The third is Anime–that’s all I’ll tell you.  So (soonish) one of these posts will be up and it will appear that I’ve actually accomplished finishing something.  Now if I could accomplish finishing a novel. . . 

The library- a sea of possibility

I don’t know about you, but I have this certain love for public libraries.  Sure, book stores are lovely.  Their books aren’t free though. . .and the stores are rarely quiet.  I could spend an entire day at the library, which I’ve done before many many years ago, when I had the time to spare and not quite so much responsibility.  Now a few hours at the library is a rare gift and one I cherish when given the chance.  Today was one of those rare days, but unfortunately due to someone oversleeping (I’m not going to name any names here. . .me) and my need for nourishment after skipping breakfast, my trip the library lasted a grand total of two hours.  Half an hour of it was spent communicating on Facebook. . .I feel shamed (at least I got that out of the way, right?  RIGHT?!).  So what all did I accomplish today?

Well, my first reason for going to the library was to do some research on Southern forests and plant life.  I realized just recently, as I was writing a scene in the forests (where a great deal of my first book takes place) that I knew very little of forests and the types of trees you would find.  Sure, you can find oak, birch, cedar, and pine, but what else can you find?  What different varieties of each are there?  And which ones commonly grow together?  So I set out to learn all I could, which was a lot, but unfortunately a great deal of that information came from a reference book, so I recorded a little and checked out a couple of other books that give more detail.  There is a plethora of forest information in this bag next to my desk. . .all waiting to be collected and stored in my little thinking box.

Another reason for going, was to enjoy the peace and quiet that I lack at home, even late at night/early mornings.  There is always noise in my house.  Always.  At 2am my brother may be on the Xbox, which means there will be plenty of gun fire, explosions, and giggling.  The noise makes it difficult for me to get any progress done whether on the computer or in my book journal.  I just recently started the book journal, feeling I needed something to help keep my thoughts and notes together.  My computer is full of notes I’ve written over the years, all varying so differently that it was time to have an official book of notes and information.  Today I was able to write down plenty.  Next trip out will be some chapter outlining, as I have made changes and need the notebook to reflect that.

The other reason I set out on a day of fun at the library, was for the books!  No research, just books to read for fun!  Libraries are a sea of possibility and adventure just waiting to be read.  From fiction to non-fiction, there are so many books that it would take you years to read them all.  I always stop at the fiction section and glance over the books.  Sometimes I go look up particular books in the online catalog, but in general I have no idea what I’m looking for and just dive in and find something.  Today I mostly used the catalog (I guess I wasn’t feeling that adventurous) and boy did I end up with quite a few books.  More than I had planned really.  Most were books that have film adaptations now and that I’ve heard are either good or have so much hype that I figured I’d give them a go.  Four out of eight books are fiction novels, while three were books on forests and one on expression in writing.  Lots of fun and interesting things to read.   I shall be making up a list of other books to check out my next trip, which I hope will be soon.

One of the nice things about going to the library in the summer is the lack of teenagers sitting huddled at desks and computers, jabbering on and making more noise than is required.  At the same time, it’s depressing to see so few young folks with interest in books.  The youngest person I saw was a five year old.  Come on, kids!  We gotta get you guys into reading more often!  Put down those tablets!  No no, I know you’re not reading on that thing.  You were just playing Candy Crush.  Put it down and pick up a good book.  There’s plenty out there.  More than you could ever dream of!

And then she fell in love. . .

I remember not being a fan of books as a kid.  Besides Little Women and The Witch of Blackbird Pond, you couldn’t force me to read a book unless there was a prize involved.  English class and I were mortal enemies until one morning when I was fourteen, when one assignment changed everything for me.

Every class was spent reading, filling out worksheets, writing reports, or watching a film based on whatever book we had just finished.  There wasn’t much creativity involved and the books we had read weren’t exactly the most exciting things I had ever read.  A good portion of them were only excerpts from books and didn’t whet my appetite enough to track the full novels down and read them.

It was on that one particular morning that I remember the looks on my classmates faces.  The look of bewilderment as our teacher gave us our new assignment.  She read a a small paragraph that told of a person and a place, and the general mood of the scene.  The character was in their house and sitting in a chair.  Nothing particularly exciting was taking place.  It was was up to us, our duty to make it exciting.  I groaned a little, thinking this was going to be a terrible assignment.  It had been at least three years since I wrote anything and lets face it, fifth grade writing assignments aren’t Shakespearean work.  But I did as she asked.

I sat at my word processor for hours, thinking and typing.  Erasing everything and typing again until I was pleased with what I had written.  One story had consumed my entire night and by the time it was finished I was the happiest girl in the world.  Not because the dreaded assignment was done, but because I had written something I was proud of.

The next day we were to read our work aloud to the class, which I wasn’t thrilled about.  All through middle and high school I was the quiet kid, I didn’t talk in front of people that much.  What if I were to pronounce something wrong in front of everyone?  I was laughed at enough already, no need to add more to things to the pile.  One of my classmates had offered to read it for me, but by the time my turn came class was over and all I could do was hand it in.  Even though it was never read in front of everyone, I was still proud of that story.  Getting an A was the icing on the cake.

Over the next year I started writing fanfiction, terrible fanfiction, but that didn’t hamper my love of writing the fiction I wished were true.  I had no idea it was called fanfiction at the time, all I knew was that I wanted to write my own episodes and sequels to movies because I was unsatisfied with how many of them had ended.  That one little story was like a small rain cloud that had morphed into a harrowing hurricane.  It wasn’t long until I was writing every day and beginning to write my own fictional stories.  Mostly fantasy of course.

I’m sure by now you can tell my grasp of grammar is mediocre at best (at least I type full words online and not talk like a computer sputtering out broken code. . .I cringe when I see people use L33t speak instead of taking the time to type out full words.  Come on guys, you probably spend more time looking to see which key you’re going to hit when you speak L33t.  Train yourself enough and you can type out full words without blinding your fellow internet lurkers and type at lightning speed!) and what I know of writing books is knowledge I’ve gathered from years of reading other’s talented works.  Someday, when my family life has calmed down and I have the money/time to dedicate to it, I hope to take a writing class.  I’ve improved since my days of sitting behind a desk and listening to the teacher prattle on about how the book we were to read was a work of literary genius.  There’s still much room for improvement.  MUCH room. . .a football stadium seems like room enough .

I have a terrible habit that has plagued me for years and I wish I could rid of.  Ever began writing and feel so satisfied with the words on the page, but read over it and start making edits until you’re frustrated?  The story is suddenly a muddled mess and you start finding your own plot holes.  Before you know it, you have paragraphs gone, pages missing, and you start to wonder if you should scrap your current work and start over.  If you knew how many times I’ve done this with one particular story, you would have me admitted to a psych ward.  Yeah, I need serious help.

One of my biggest problems is expectations.  Not just of myself, but the expectations of my some-day potential readers.  I’ve read the words of authors such as George R.R. Martin, Terry Goodkind, Patrick Rothfuss, Dan Brown,  J.K. Rowling, Charlaine Harris, and so many others that it would take me hours to list.  Many of them have followings that are massive and fans that have extremely high expectations.  I will never reach those heights, but I still worry how my work will be perceived.  What if people enjoyed something I write?  What if people hate it?

The authors I’ve mentioned have legions of fans, but also as many haters.  That’s how fandoms work.  Not everyone will love what you love.  Everyone enjoys different things and to expect everyone to love the same things as you is unreasonable.  Hear that K-pop netizens?  Ok randomness aside, it worries me how people will perceive my work.  Will they read my book and think that I’m some uneducated dyslexic wanna-be writer?  Or someone that had a story to tell and did it to the best of her ability?  I hope the latter of course.  I’m kind of both in a way.  Not the uneducated part of course.  Dyslexia gallops rather than runs rampant through my family.

So I want to ask, do you ever feel your writing isn’t good enough?  Fear that people will pick at it until it’s left as nothing but a poor carcass that you feel you wasted your time, blood, sweat, tears, and sanity to create?  How do you combat the feeling that your writing ability and story aren’t good enough?