Missed Writing Wednesday due to extreme laziness.
However, considering I’ve been imbibing, it seemed an opportune time to put in a Sloshed Saturday post. Happy 4th of July, all, I hope it was enjoyable.
I’ve been thinking about this off and on. As a consumer and occasional contributor to TVTropes.org, I have an obvious interest in themes and shortcuts; the language of fiction is rife with such things. The Hero, the Villain, the Sudden but Inevitable Betrayal… Tropes can be used beautifully in the hands of someone who knows what they’re doing, someone who is skilled, and can tread lightly on ground already packed tight by many feet… to torture the metaphor.
There are, however, tropes I rarely see used well. But of course people try. Ad nauseum. So here’s my thoughts on lazy writing.
Rule 1: don’t kill the pet.
No, really. Just don’t do it. Yes. It’s been done effectively. Yes, Neil Gaiman has done it and he’s not a lazy writer. However. 9 times out of 10, it’s cheap. It’s a shorthand to pull at emotions that the writer can’t quite reach genuinely. It’s a gut punch the writer pulls just out of pure laziness when they can’t muster up any other way to make their audience react. Can’t seem to figure out how to engage your readers/watchers/etc? Animal cruelty!
9 times out of 10 you’ve just lost readers. Your pointless attempt at making them feel something has made them feel something all right–that you’re a lazy hack who’s not very creative.
Sound harsh? Good. Most people need to stop this shit.
Here’s why it’s lazy: many of us won’t admit it outright, but it’s easier to feel sympathy for animals than people much of the time. An innocent pet, a loving dog, a soft cat, a quiet bunny… we can’t do the mental gymnastics necessary to tell ourselves they sort of deserved it. They’re innocents. Therefore it’s a lazy option to garner our outrage, having your totally evil no really character kill them just for the evulz. This is the point at which you often lose my interest. If you can’t make me care without resorting to cheap shots, why should I continue reading your story? Clearly you don’t care, why should I?
I’ll refrain from mentioning things by name. I don’t want to become embroiled in drama. But mark my words.
It is the rare individual that can carry this off without coming off as crass and lazy.
The other thing I’m going to put into this category is rape as drama/backstory/etc.
Yes, absolutely this can work as something in a piece of fiction. But it’s something that must be handled very, very carefully. And oh so many are not up to the challenge. Oh so many come off as cheap sensationalist showboating, and quite tiresome not to mention misogynistic. Because let’s be honest, the number of men raped in fiction is minuscule compared to women, and scenes involving men are pretty much never sexualized. And, considering statistics, you’ve probably alienated a lot of your audience if you treat it as some sort of drama. And much of the time lazy writers use that as the only thing that could possibly develop a female character. It’s really quite off-putting.
And please don’t give me the historical accuracy argument. Dysentery is historically accurate too, but I don’t see loving wordcounts devoted to that in popular fiction.
The point is, try to be creative for the love of Cthulhu. Stop snagging on the lazy and easy and cheap. This is a plea not only to fledgling writers but established ones who will likely never see this blog. Just please, stop being so bland and predictable and infuriating. Don’t kill the pet, don’t do the rape story, don’t force the outrage. It’s not only lazy, it’s frankly insulting to your readers unless you’re some sort of god of writing and have a lot more going for your story and characters than that.
Here’s the test: if you can make something compelling without either of those things, think long and hard about whether or not you need it in the first place.
If you can’t, you’re lazy and need to work much, much harder.
This has just been a splattering of my opinion, but I stand by my advice.