In Which Our Heroine Boldly Asserts a Truism

26 February 2004

I was reading the last of an attempted correspondence with someone whose attitudes about fiction are wildly at odds with my own, and I came up with a rule that seems like it should be blindingly obvious: if the story doesn't work, the story doesn't work.

Yes, okay, a truism. But here's what I mean: if the story, the general sequence of who's doing something and what they're doing and all, doesn't work (for a given reader), then the story, including whatever clever statements, messages, references, or linguistic games, will not work. The first part, the actual tale told, is not expendable. If you come up with a lovely imaginary society to make a point about our real society, but your imaginary society doesn't hang together, it doesn't matter how brilliant your points about our real society are. They will be lost. No one will care.

It's lovely to have people reading along in your work and have an epiphany about life, or feel like you're making the language sing to them, or something. But there's got to be something there in your fiction, a shred of story. Something that will not leave the reader cold and uncaring, or feeling duped for having bothered. The literal level of story doesn't have to make the same sense as the world around us. But it has to make its own sense, it has to hang together on its own terms in the mind of the reader, or none of it will matter.

It's hard, because no story is for every reader. My grandmother doesn't read war stories. Absolutely does not. She grew up in a war story. She was the young girl home when the telegram came about her brother. She doesn't want to be that girl ever again even by proxy. Those stories are not her stories; those stories will not work for her. And it doesn't matter how brilliantly done the story is, how evocative or insightful or compelling, it is just not her story. And I think this is some of where the difficulty comes in when we talk between genres: we sometimes have a hard time recognizing the difference between "there's really no good story here" and "the story that is here is not my story."

Ah well. Yesterday was full as usual; as usual I didn't get done nearly as much as I would have liked. As usual I did get a fair number of things done. The bread machine made a mess of the first batch of bread, so I made sure all the parts were seated absolutely as firmly as possible. Now the house smells like twelve-grain bread baking, and I'm happy. I also discovered that croissants are not what Panera does best; ah well. Also, I am becoming more and more convinced that the 17th century they had in the 19th century was much more fun than the 17th century they had in the 17th century. And I'm wondering how we can get a century like that in our century.

It's melting here. Mellllltiiiiiing. Aaaaaagh. It's supposed to rain this weekend. Like, in liquid form. I know it's almost March, but I'm not ready for this. I am counting on you, St. Patrick's Day Blizzard. You had better come through for me.

I'm getting better at not seeing movies. I didn't manage not to see "Attack of the Killer Death Clones," despite knowing in advance that it would be horrible. But I'm not seeing Mel Gibson's latest. Not, not, not. Do I need to give him my money? Not even at matinee prices. Just, no. (The Strib quoted a press release from his company as saying that this movie was "the greatest evangelization opportunity in 2000 years." Oh really? Hmm, let's do the math on this one. It is currently 2004. Minus 2000...and I was a physics major, so you can trust me on this one: the answer is 4. So assuming that Jesus was born within ten years of 0, he would have been somewhere between 14 and not born yet. Mel Gibson's publicity people apparently rank his movie above the Sermon on the Mount -- which makes sense, because that was just, you know, some Jew talking about peacemakers and love and stuff, hardly any action.)

I was reading a rant from Orson Scott Card, linked from Palinade's journal, and it kept striking me how many things he was willing to throw out in order to make his point. Family, for example, was in his mind self-evidently Mom, Dad, and the kids. Uhhh...great. So, let's see...that might allow my grandparents, because they're Mom's Mom and Dad. But Onie is right out: she is someone's kid but nobody's mom; she is not part of the "self-evident" definition of a family. Any time you're engaging in political rhetoric, I think it's worth asking yourself who or what you're condemning accidentally from what might be your own side. Are you being nasty to infertile couples who are suffering enough already? Are you telling women who have lots of male friends that they're unnatural? Who are you alienating, and is it really part of what you mean?

I'm actually just as happy to see him exclude my Onie, because it points out just how ridiculous he's being. But still, it's crossed a line. Or two or three or...twenty. It always startles me how many babies people are willing to throw out on the chance that one of them might have had a bit of bathwater on her little butt.

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