Friday, July 20, 2012

The Truth about Rules

The other day while in a theatre class, my fellow teacher was attempting to teach about costume design. She gave them a little grid and told them that we were going to draw people. One little boy, excited, proclaimed just how good he was at making humans. The project, however, was to do it proportionally, as in, how a real human body should look.

It was hard. To transfer from free handing it to an exercise like that, it required switching from the right side of the brain to the left, and all of us, me included, had to adjust.

Needless to say, the little braggart immediately grew disappointed, hoping to impress us, I think, with his talents. Not only was he discouraged, he refused to participate, flipping the paper over and sitting there staring in the distance.

I remember, being a child, hearing pieces of advice and suggestions and just not getting it. I wasn’t aware that I didn’t get it, it’s in retrospect that I realized the problem. I remember that I thought these things were a lot of effort and thinking they were ridiculous. What I didn’t understand is that, though teachers do lie and can be wrong, they do have a reason for thinking these things.

We are taught early on that art shouldn’t be confined by rules and regulations. There is also the tendency to be drawn towards it because it is “easy.” Combine the two and it makes sense as to why a child would brace against any sort of technique that tells him how to do something and requires more work.

On that note, I don’t think that there are rules in creation. Obeying arbitrary rules just helps the person willing to break them. But I do think it’s important to understand the motivation behind making these instructions.

Upon opening a book on how to draw, the first image a reader will come across are those strange little manikins with the t’s across the face. I used to look at those and think, who draws like that? It seemed like a lot of extra effort, and, more importantly, it felt like something meant for amateurs only.

And, before I go on, I think that’s a big part of it. Whenever expressed the “rules” for something, it felt more like it was the rules for “the people who sucked.”

So, yeah, it’s hard to listen to.

My conclusion, over the years, having actual experience in the field and really beginning to get it, is that it is harder and it isn’t something everyone does. It’s not meant to be done all of the time. The point is not to add a few extra steps to ensure talent for the untalented, but to give a technique that will help solve future problems when needed.

These sorts of suggestions, preplanning, outlining, doing all this extra work, isn’t intended for daily use. That’s what I didn’t realize. It’s not that there’s separate rules for amateurs and experts like I believed, it’s that it is something to use so that the creator is experienced enough that when he needs it, such as when the proportions won’t turn out right, he can use it.

Friday, July 13, 2012

The Pros and Cons of Outlining a Novel

It is likely that you are not new to receiving writing advice, considering you are reading a writing blog and we've all taken at least a basic English class. That being the case, I assume that sometime in your experience you heard the saying about how preplanning is necessary.

It’s a question of interest for all fields in the art world; should we work by inspiration or technique? Is it better to plan it all out or wing it? Many will say that only one is the right way. Or worse, the will tell you, “Both.”

My answer? “Both.” Or rather, more sensibly, it's contextual.

Sometimes we want to write by pure feeling and sometimes we should plan it out. Seems obvious? It's because that's what we all automatically do. The issue isn't whether or not authors need to do anything. It is less about the requirements and more about the know how. When to plan and when to let the juices flow comes down to subjectivity.

                THE PROS of writing an outline are certainly beneficial.

1. The story tends to ramble less.
Because the author knows where it is going, he doesn’t stall for time in the middle of it trying to figure it out. Read an inexperienced writer’s story while looking for this “stalling” and you’ll immediately see what I mean.

Planned stories tend to have less irrelevant conversations and scenes. We see more time taking action than the characters sitting around trying to figure out what to do (because the author doesn’t know what to do.)

2. The stories tend to have a point.
Many tales start out as an image or concept, not a plot or a theme. We think, I want to write about an imaginary friend! Such as in the case of Twilight which the inspiration came from the simple picture of a beautiful meadow with two lovers in it, one sparkling like he had just gone through the car wash.

Though not a negative way to start out, it usually means that the author has to then come up with a conflict and what the story is actually about, not just where it is set or the characters in it. Maybe people do this by exploring it as they write. But, as I said, that leads to rambling, and, often times, it is more like a series of events and images than a story.

When brainstorming, however, we’re looking at the forest and not the trees, which allows us to understand the connections between all the events. If we have outlined it beforehand, then, just simply knowing why these scenes are there, we can tell the audience why the scenes are there.

3. There is less likely to be writer’s block.

Writer’s block tends to stem from three things: depression (i.e. unrelated emotional distress), disappointment at the results, and not knowing something important.

Often times we aren’t aware of what we don’t know. However, if you find yourself unable to “get passed that one part,” it is probably due to puzzlement.

It can be something simple like knowing there needs to be a fight, but unsure on what the characters are fighting about. Or even more so, how the topic comes up at all. Sometimes it’s bigger, like we’ve been written into a corner. (How can I believably get them out of this jail cell?) And sometimes it’s simply that we don’t know where the story is going at all.

Because often we start with some sort of setting or character that interests us, we get writing, inspired and feverous, finally get passed the point we get them all set up for the action, and we don’t know what the action is. We are at the inciting event, ready to introduce the main conflict that will propel the story into top gear. And there we sit, waiting for it to come to us.

Plotting out a whole story means that when the author is trying to get the words right, he doesn’t have to think about the action. Having those thoughts and problems already solved, all he has to do now is put it into the text.

4. There’s better continuity.

Continuity is a consistency in a story. A story with continuity obeys its own rules and does not contradict information given. An example of failing to have continuity would be saying a character’s parents died when she was ten and then later talking about how her mom threw her an expensive bat mitzvah.

Outlining helps the author find plot holes and inconstancies in the story, and allows for him to change them more readily.

5. It keeps track of ideas.

Every author varies in his ability to organize himself. Some have better memories than other. Some don’t work on the same story for months. Some often work on more than one project at once. And some have a good idea and instantaneously forget it.

For those who have a hard time remembering everything about a work, and this is especially true for people who do not write every day, having an outline to look back on can prevent throwing in the towel due to confusion.

It is important to note that one of major reasons people are so obsessed with this topic is the stubbornness that comes along with it. Many people are of one mind or the other, and it’s like trying to talk about a religious or political opinion. You’re probably not going to change their mind, and they’re usually a little superior about it.

                THE CONS

1. It takes longer.

This is the main frustration I have when I’m outlining. Often times when I sit down and am ready to work, I don’t feel like I can count the brainstorming as a part of my responsibility. I can’t get myself to feel like I’ve actually achieved when I’ve finished.

Though a little silly, it is a legitimate concern. The more we spend time on preplanning the less time we have for actually writing. And though I recognize there are a lot of arguments against, essentially, being lazy, but this is a huge factor in why most people don’t outline.

Quite frankly, it is a choice all authors have to make. Do we want to be James Joyce or Stephan King? Both are successful writers. I’m not going to get into quality because it’s too subjective, but I will say that there is merit behind either goal.

Prolific writers get experience, detailed writers get knowledge. If your goal is to be prolific, spending too much time on coming up with ideas and not actually putting them down can just be foolish.

2. The ending’s been ruined.

It sounds idiotic, but writing a novel can often be like reading one. Many stories are great when we aren’t sure on how they’re going to end, but once we know, the magic is gone. Too much preplanning can destroy the possibilities, and, sometimes, the author will be bored.

3. It can ruin the flow.

Books written by inspiration tend to have seamless transitions. Outlined ones can jump from idea to idea. When writing a story as we go along, we don’t have to think about why we made that connection; the evolution is there in the text. However, when working by a list of events, an author will often forget why it jumps from the train station to an underground cavern.

Furthermore, although this is of course not all of the time, when having the important moments listed out for us, the pacing can be abrupt. The mentality, “First I have to write the scene where we see the parents arguing. Then I have to write where she breaks the glass. Then I need to talk about how she gets get out of school,” can be infused into the story’s flow. Many times the scenes will clip along at the same succinct speed, having gotten rid of all the rambling that can make a moment less rushed.

4. Passion can change.

When we come up with an idea we are excited about it. Later, we might not be.

Having come up with a lot of concepts months before we may ever write them, it is possible for us to lose interest. Passionate writers are almost always (with rare exception) more interesting than apathetic ones, no matter the talent or expertise involved. It’s also harder to write an idea we’re indifferent to. This means that either we now have to a) write about a moment we have no care for, or b) change the story which makes all of that pre-work a waste of time.

5. It becomes formulaic.

Because outlining helps plot structure, it can also homogenize it. Often times stories that are over planned aren’t unique. When developing the novel as we go, we tend to let our whims take charge. When diagraming it beforehand, however, we are using logic. Both have their benefits and flaws, and the biggest flaw with logic is how mechanical it can become.

Most believe that whether or not to preplan is a decision based on personality. The use and extent of it is different for each and every author. It is also important to realize, however, that we don’t, and shouldn’t, stick with one decision. Outlining is a technique that solves a lot of little problems. Using it too much, or just for the sake of it can also make difficulties. To preplan or not to preplan is based around what the author is trying to do and what obstacles are preventing him from doing it.

Tuesday, July 10, 2012

10 Problems with the Modern Female Love Interest

When Seinfeld first premiered its pilot, it almost blew it. The producers didn’t like it, no one found it funny, and the executives made their demands before they would allow all four first episodes to be produced. Their most prevalent demand? It was missing a feminine touch. Thus, enter Elaine.

The token woman is more prominent in the entertainment industry probably over any other business. Executives, publishers, and publicists alike believe (and maybe rightly) that there hast to be a female character for the fairer members of the audience to relate to. That and with the tacked on idea that every movie isn’t complete without some sort of romance, it is not surprising that every script has at least one leading lady.

So why is it then that whenever that love interests enter on screen, I feel myself physically cringe? Why am I sitting there waiting for her to screw up? And why am I disappointed every time I am robbed of watching her fall flat on her face?

In movies, books, and overall stories in which the leading male needs his lady, it is important for the members of the audience to want the romance to happen. Especially for us girls. So as writers, male or female, writing a likable woman is of the upmost importance—and pretty damn hard.


1. She’s always the same.

Contrast theory is the idea that when something is “wrong,” the opposite is right. We are constantly told that the old standard of the kind, fragile virgin is overdone and, well, closed minded. Clearly those aren’t personality traits that a modern woman will enjoy watching. So, what kind of person do we create? The aggressive, bad ass whore, of course.

In an interview, Olivia Wilde talked about her part in Tron and how excited she was to not have “a damsel in distress,” part. However, think of any action or fantasy movie written after 1988 (other than Disney) and you’d be lucky to find a part that deviated from high strung and serious. The love interest is no longer the old stereotype; she has developed a whole new one. I called it the little dog syndrome. They think they can beat anyone up and hump anything in sight.

The best examples are the terrible formulaic action and fantasies, such as Wraith of the Titans and Prince of Persia. Better movies, such as the original Pirates of the Caribbean or Iron Man, will deviate from it to some extent, but each female lead could be described as aggressive and serious.

Of course, the leading males have their similarities too. It is just as likely to be sign of how Hollywood chooses their films. Yet, my complaint is that these personalities that we see each and every film are obnoxious more than enjoyable.

2. She behaves like a main character.

Main characters have different rules than everyone else. They are allowed to be more bland, more serious, irrationally take charge, and be “perfect.”

A protagonist often is a neutral face that allows more eccentric characters to bounce off of. Sometimes, of course, we see the opposite, the hero a freak in a world of dull. Think the titular character of House versus Simba from the Lion King. The cub is honest, straightforward, and though he does have his faults, he is most interesting when interacting with the other members of the cast. He preforms best around Timon and Pumba, the hyenas, or even Scar. The opposite, however, where House balances on the edge of crazy it is the job of his teammates to keep him in check.

However, this love interest is often the one who breaks the usual rules of character interaction. With the attempt to make her “likable,” many authors will attempt to make her perfect, which often means flawless, which often means personality-less. Now, the main character can get away with this because the reader naturally assumes he or she is supposed to be and therefore is (usually) on his side. It is his story, so when we are following him through these stories, we can enjoy the wild characters bouncing off of him. But, because it is the job of the love interest to mostly interact with the main character, it means we’re having two people who never make mistakes involved in a conversation. That means no conflict, that means boring.

Now, not all main characters can get away with being perfect either, and, in fact, it is often the downfall of most books and movies. But, the reader gives the protagonist the benefit of the doubt, and no one else is allowed that grace.

Secondly, she tries to have the same qualities as the hero. If he’s funny, she’s funny. If he is confident, she is confident. If he stand up for himself, she stands up for himself. They are essentially the same person except that she is high strung about everything she does, removing the singular element of nonchalance that makes him charming.

It makes sense, in that the attributes given to this protagonist are done so because they are what makes characters likable in the modern climate. Except that, unless the point of the story is for the reader to take a side, and the author wants the main character to be the most enjoyable person. Adding someone in with the same traits merely makes them at ends with each other instead of bouncing off each other.

3. She’s the voice of reason.

Let’s say the protagonist is the eccentric one in the story. He is practically insane. He does whatever pops into his head when it pops into his head, and that’s why we love him. But the author needs to control his actions and prevent this loose cannon from getting him into an unsolvable mess. So how do they do that? Add in the voice of reason.

The voice of reason is the character who sees the situation for what it is, who prevents the main character from hurting himself and helps the writer in convincing the hero to not do whatever he’s thinking.

It makes sense to attribute that to the ingenue. Who else is a character going to listen to if not the girl he loves?

The problem? We hate her.

The voice of reason is a buzz kill. He or she is often an intellectual, more aware than all the other characters, more reasonable, and generally speaking, respectable. However, if we are siding with the main character, the voice of reason is the antagonist, preventing from the protagonist from doing what he wants.

Especially when the reason why the main character is listening to her because it becomes about the relationship and not the advice. Coming from her, it sounds like an ultimatum—an unspoken, “listen to me or I won’t sleep with you”—and thus a power struggle. When it is his friend, however, he listens more because it makes sense.

4. She doesn’t fill her own niche.

A character’s niche is basically what he does for the story and how he or she flushes it out. Basic niches are things like he takes charge. We need someone to take charge of the situation so the author doesn’t have to deal with a 20 page argument, and instead can just have a strong force say, this is what we’re going to do.

Common niches are the voice of reason, the leader, the comedic relief, the badass, and the “baby.” The comedic relief helps to release tension. The badass is some sort of powerhouse who gets things done. And the baby is a well-loved character that the others want to protect. Often a child, woman, or good friend. One character can fill more than one role.

The problem, however, is that one character should be filling at least one role on his own, or in his own way, not referring to minor individuals. The love interest often not only fulfills the same niche as the main character, but she doesn’t have anything to herself.

If we take Pepper from Iron Man, we can see this problem. Tony Stark and Pepper are trying to be leaders and funny at the same time. Pepper, at least, isn’t competing to be “badass” and doesn’t inexplicitly know how to fight. Her other niche, voice of reason (constantly explaining to Tony Stark how responsible he needs to be), is also fulfilled by Stark’s best friend.

And she’s not doing any of these things differently than the other characters. Like I said, niches can be filled by several diverse characters as long as they do it “in their own way.” We may have two leaders, such as an official one (a boss) and an unofficial one (the employee that takes charge). We may have two comedic characters, one whose jokes are based around making fun of the others, one who constantly makes mistakes himself. Pepper’s humor, however, is just like Stark’s: sarcastic and about control. When James Rhodes and Pepper are telling Iron Man what to do, they could basically be saying each other’s lines. Except we aren’t annoyed by Rhody nearly as much as Pepper (at least in the first film.)

Why? Partially because of the ultimatum issue discussed before, and partly because we don’t feel that Stark loses to him.

5. She doesn’t belong in the world.

Like Elaine in Seinfeld, many females are just the token girl. And it often shows. Because, such as in Pepper’s case, the character doesn’t fill her own niche, she usually could be taken out with little damage to the actual plot. Since the love story is often tacked on to the larger conflict, and their connections are not deeply ingrained, it can feel like two separate movies all together. This means that if we actually were to choose to delete the character, giving a few lines to someone else, the only way it would affect the story is by shortening it.

An example of this that comes to mind is the show on Cartoon Network Level Up. I haven’t seen it, but I have been exposed to the commercials. From my understanding, it is about three boys, including a millionaire video game designer, who have to fight “leaks,” which are monsters who escaped into reality. The singular girl is, I believe, the sister of one, who doesn’t play video games, but happens to get involved. It is very, very obvious, that they just needed a girl involved, probably due to the demands of an executive.

In these movies, shows, and books in which the girls are obviously only there because the story needed a woman, the character’s have a hard time fitting in. For me, it feels like being on a construction site where everyone else has a job and she’s just standing there, realizing that she has nothing to do.

The character (and author) acts as one naturally would, trying to find reason to be there, getting involved in situations that don’t have to do with her, being defensive, and basically standing around gawking until the scene where the protagonist finally decides to talk to her.

If someone is pressing for a girl in the work, then just take another character and transfer the gender. This will make her far more interesting than those poor women with the Napoleon Complex.

6. The complications of feminism.

The biggest issue is our societies view about how women should be. Feminism and sexism are some of the largest concerns of the modern person, no matter which side he or she is on. Authors have to contend with it, and it is a problem.

We consider relationships with dominant men and submissive women as unhealthy, but those where it is flipped is a good thing. This is a problem for the writer because it cuts out many of the options.

Female characters are expected to be dominant and confident. Anything else is often considered to be “sexist.” In most stories, the only people who should truly be dominant are the protagonist and antagonist, the mentor, and any official leaders of the world. A passive main character is often unlikable, which is why the majority of them aren’t. And, because the people who surround him are supposed to react in accordingly, they are usually expected to be submissive to some extent. At least, they act in a way that works with the protagonist’s personality.

A dominant female can be likable—as the hero or the villain. As the love interest, however, she is a supporting character. So, we see the problem. Because of current opinions, a supporting female is a sexist stereotype.

Side characters need to be loyal and focused on the main character’s success. Though they can play pranks, get in fights, and act like friends, their story is actually the protagonist’s story. Their lives are based around the hero’s conflicts. Feminism dictates that a woman should not revolve her life around a man’s problems, and thus the author is stuck.

7. She has no friends.

Two basic rules for drawing an audience’s interest: People like people, people like friends. Great characters with great bonds can make any plot, setting, or theme bearable. The shows, movies, and books that are most successful are the ones that have great unions. Harry Potter, Star Wars, Lord of the Rings, Friends, House—all these films have some sort of immaculate commodity that anyone could be jealous of.

Because she doesn’t belong there in the first place, because she is a supporting character, the female love interest has no relationships outside the protagonist. But, most of the side characters don’t. So why is it a problem for her? Because the other people have the protagonist and she doesn’t.

Many movies, because of the alleged sexism if she were to be loyal to him, makes her not. The author can’t have her following him, can’t have her devoted to him because of the stigma involved. Secondly, because she’s the voice of reason, she’s the one on the opposite side of the conflict. Because she’s “perfect” she can’t be as crazy as him. She can’t be the one to agree with him, egging him on to blow himself up with the firework. She has to be the one on the side saying, “Don’t you dare!”

Also, in attempts to make her a strong woman, the tendency is to make her “independent.” She doesn’t need anyone. Except that we don’t like character, especially supporting characters, who distance themselves from people.

Attempts to introduce the token female and make her self-reliant force her to be alienated from the rest of the group. No one likes her or even notices her, and the audience follows the notion.

8. She’s always important.

During the movie Captain America, a blonde woman walked in, handed a note, and left. I remembered thinking, did I miss something? I thought for sure she had to be a real character. Two scenes later, she and Captain America are making out in the most forced, argument inciting moment in current modern movies.

Of course, being that most of the movie was set in World War II military bases, it is obvious why I would feel the second woman in the entire film was important. But it’s not only true in these extremes.

With some exceptions, movies meant for men/general audiences (i.e. not women) are often male crowded. The average minor character will have a Y chromosome. In fact, all movie trailers are always voiced over by a man. Mostly the same man, but still. And, not only that, if the director chooses to make the taxi driver female, it draws audience attention straight to her.

This is something that the author and director can’t combat, and has more to do with society’s mind than the writer’s.

This puts a weight on all female characters, but the most on the female love interest. For one thing, she can’t be nonchalantly introduced. A problem for love interests of all genders, the woman has it worse. There is a possibility to sneak a future boyfriend into the scene by means of a waiter’s uniform and a red herring conversation between two characters. But when the audience sees a girl, they will always subconscious ask themselves, why did the author make it a girl?

And, because of the sexism and few girl issues, it is harder for the author to take risks on her. Being the only girl for the woman to relate to (from the executives point of view), she has to be likable and a respectable person. While other characters can get away with being annoying or foolish, she represents women everywhere, and that is a burden that ruins the character for everyone.

9. She has innate power (and weaknesses).

Like they say, sex changes everything. A woman’s problem in fiction or in real life, is that she has certain powers over others that she can’t control. Where a male character can be defined by merely his actions, a girl automatically has innate control and lack thereof.

For starters, as discussed before, every request the love interest makes of the male character isn’t just a request, it’s an order. Even when they are not sleeping together, he is expected to make her happy. The saying, “If Mama ain’t happy, ain’t nobody happy.”

Every piece of dialogue between the lovers is much harder to make because of the implications. For one thing, if she is too nice, she becomes submissive, and we already discussed the problems with that. Anything above neutral can be considered an attack.

Also, beautiful women grab attention, in real life too, especially in a room full of men. In psychology, the person who the group orients around is the dominant one. She’s the one in charge.

A combination of all the other elements, this innate power is true issue behind why it is hard to like the beautiful love interest. Why? Because she is competition for the protagonist, and she is competition for the audience.

I believe that beautiful women have a social responsibility forced on them. They make or break it for other people, at least in those other people’s eyes. Why do we have popular phrases like Ice Queen? Why are female celebrities downfalls how “ugly they are”? With beauty comes power, and with power comes a lot of people already pissed off.

10. She needs to pull the stick out.

I’ve talked about this before, and I’ll say it again because it is the biggest problem. Modern female characters tend to be too high strung and can’t relax. Perhaps it is because they are fighting for some sort of position in the world, or perhaps it is because that’s how we perceive the hypothetical lady, or maybe it’s because girls are expected to be the responsible ones. No matter way, the main reason we don’t like these love interests is because they just need to pull the stick out.

For starters, they can’t let go of the main conflict. In the movie The Prince of Persia, it is the girl’s job to take the dagger to… someplace. And every time she opens her mouth, we hear about it. Expected to compensate for the anti-hero or to help push this lazy man to do “what needs to be done,” she takes her job too seriously, and can’t sit back and smell the roses.

For one thing, it is her job as the voice of reason to care. For another, because God forbid she support the main character—and because the whole love-hate relationship thing is really in right now, and because the whole, “I don’t wanna save the world!” hero is popular—instead of convincing her to chase after the protagonist’s super objective because she wants to help him or wants to be with him or whatever, the author gives her the same super objective.

Which means, instead of saying, “I want to get the sword of power, wanna help?” And her going, “Sounds like a blast!” They force the main character to do what he doesn’t want to do and then, to make sure he does it, makes the girl want to do what he doesn’t want to do. And she can’t let go of it, because he’ll take the chance to wander off.

Saturday, July 7, 2012

Writing for an Audience

I recently read a Writer’s Digest article, “Writing a Novel People Want to Read,” by Corban Addison. Though I started out the choir, I quickly turned heathen, and it became one of my favorite articles to discuss in a mocking sort of way.

He starts out by criticizing the assumed (probably accurately) common thought that most authors “don’t write stories for an audience.” They tell him, “I write for myself.”

He proceeds to explain “at every stage of the writing process” he kept thinking about how to write the story for his reader, which is about as far as I think the effort went: thinking. From the article’s stand point, I was uncertain as to how he kept the audience in mind, and, furthermore, how it affected what he wrote.

His novel, A Walk Across the Sun, an actually intriguing idea about two Indian girls sold into sex slavery, was praised for not being too graphic. The author relates how John Grisham said, “this story could have been gross, but you made it tasteful,” and Addison goes on to explain, “I will never forget that statement, for it confirmed my intuition in the beginning—write for the reader, not for myself.”

Does that mean he wanted to make it graphic and gross and he refrained? He had an overwhelming desire to go into details on rape but didn’t because he wanted to write stories for “ordinary people,” i.e. those unlike him?

No. I don’t think that was in intention at all. Quite frankly, I think his motivation was to pitch his book and try to sneak in how John Grisham complimented it. However, from a non-critical standpoint, it could look like that’s exactly how he meant it, and that’s how I’m going to take it. Because it’s fun.

Now that I think about it, I believe the main issue with the article was that he was more intent on pitching his book than staying on subject. I do believe that he kept the audience in mind, though I don’t believe that he didn’t “write for himself,” in the process. In fact, on his website he states, “[A Walk Across the Sun] is a novel that brings together three of Addison’s great passions—storytelling, human rights, and the world and its cultures.” So, yeah, it sounds like it was meant for him. At least on some level.

I do believe that it is a mistake to disregard the reader, however, or the audience in any art form. Often the problem that arises at the beginning of our careers is that stubbornness that Addison talks about. People will often attempt to move forward by the road that should exist, not the one that does.

We make mistakes like not dressing up for a job interview because “they shouldn’t care how I look. It’s about what I do.” We refuse a commission to draw a book cover because, “I only work by inspiration.” Making decisions based on, “will this promote me?” seems more like selling out than being business-wise.

The American culture, as well as many others in modern day, I’m fairly sure, is taught to fight the system. Anyone who works with it, or manipulates it, is evil. To make decisions for the sole purpose of selling is not the creator’s way. The true artist is like those in Rent: musicians who can’t pay the rent because they spent the last year unemployed, yet still hasn’t written one song.

It is important in bookland to consider the audience, however, because quality is defined not just by the novel itself, but the ones it is being compared to. One of Fifty Shades of Grey’s worst criticisms is its relationship to Twilight. It is important to look around and think about current trends. Though one does not necessarily need to work with fads or write about things he doesn’t want to just to sell better, he can make changes on the aspects he doesn’t care about to fit ideas that readers do care about.

For example, let’s say that he has a twist ending. We’ll even say that hypothetically it is the most meaningful and life changing notion in the entire world. But until the audience gets to the ending, the book is abysmally dull and no one can muster interest. They won’t get to the end to see it’s greatness. It may be a good idea on his part to add in a second plot geared towards grabbing attention, such as a love story. Though it is appealing to the commercial aspects rather than critical, and he feels like it is a trite tactic that he should not have to resort to—people should be of a higher substance than that—if he thinks about it, it does not change the ending, just an appeal to a wider audience.

Decisions like this, attempting to entertain people as well as teach them, making variations and additions to the portions that he doesn’t care about can maintain the integrity of the parts important to him, can benefit a person far more than sticking to his guns. Not dressing up for an interview (not deleting a dull scene, refusing to change the title to something clearer, or not putting in punctuation) is far more likely to lose the job than make a mark on the world.

Often times, books, songs, acting that are made without the goal of appealing to the audience tend not to. The writer and the reader aren’t always interested or bored by the same things. And not just because of different personalities. It is the difference between your child screaming and a stranger’s child screaming. They’re both equally obnoxious, but yours will always be a little cuter.

What I remember about refusing to play the game is a deep down feeling of it being too much of an effort and the idea that I had other talents to compensate. Though I know that wasn’t the whole story, it’s the impression I get whenever I see other people behave in the same manner. There are other reasons, positive ones, that lead us to go out on stage in slacks, singing a song we barely have memorized and expect the audience to be impressed, but it is common for the listeners to believe that we’re not trying to impress them is because we think that it should be effortless.

So they have to prove us wrong.

It’s funny when stars get away with blatant disregard for the publisher and businessmen. I believe it was Earnest Hemmingway who turned in a manuscript with no punctuation, and when the editor returned it and asked him to put them in, he sent back a letter filled with periods and commas, and said, “This is all you should need. Place them where you will.” But, as Stephen King proved with Richard Bachman, a person’s success is far more about his title than his talent, and those of us with neither have to work the system until we get in the place to have both.