Thursday, January 28, 2010

Fanatical Fans: The Novel as a Franchise

by Candace Pine

It’s no secret that recently many novels or (even more popular) series, are being made into films. With books like Harry Potter, Lord of the Rings, and Twilight becoming their own cultural phenomenons, it’s sometimes hard to believe kids are all sitting at home staring at the TV or playing video games all day. Seeing massive crowds of fans dressed up and screaming to see their favorite stars from the movies that bring their beloved books to life is quite a fascinating sight. Some people disparage fanaticism in readers, especially since these books seem to attract younger and teen audiences, but there are also older readers (for example “Twilight Moms”) who can be just as obsessed.

So what is it about such novels that make readers fall in love with them?

Perhaps it feels like an escape from regular life. After all, many of these popular novels fall into the realm of fantasy. Or maybe readers like to imagine what it would be like to go on such adventures since nothing like that would happen in their own lives. Or it could be that people just find them exciting.

Despite the reasons for why these books are so loved, it’s the way they’re turned into full-blown franchises that really fascinates me.

Marketing types find a series that has a large fan base and exploit it, drawing in these fans first to the movies and then to the other large range of products that go along with it. There are the books and movies, of course, then the games, toys, trading cards, calendars, CDs, posters, backpacks, clothes, and anything else under the sun advertisers can think of to sell. The fact is, these books are turned into vast money making franchises.

In my opinion, that is the negative side of a really appealing book: The franchise takes something people love and vamps it up into a fanatic level because fans will pay money to surround themselves with commercial objects that go beyond reading. Plus, it draws negative opinions from outsiders who distrust it on the basis of popularity. The way people buy into these franchises just makes the opinion outsiders have about fanatical fans, and the books they read, sink even lower.

There is a tendency to look down on franchised books such as Harry Potter, Lord of the Rings and Twilight, and claim that they’re not good literature and therefore people shouldn’t waste their time on them. However, the love of reading fostered by such series could led to more advanced levels of reading and a taste for higher literature. What some people may consider "meager beginnings" could turn into a greater love for literature and a higher standard of quality.

What people should be careful of is being too negative about criticizing readers for being devoted fans because we don’t want to chase them off from reading. As long as people are reading and enjoying it and that feeling stays with them for the rest of their lives, then what does it matter what they’re reading?

Not everyone is going to agree on what’s “good.” The classic canon of literature has been in constant flux over the past three decades as scholars rediscover minority and women writers and fight against New Criticism’s notion of “aesthetics only.” No one should be discouraged from reading something they like, and if they want to buy into the franchise side of it too, that’s their decision. As long as they’re still able to make the distinction between fantasy and reality in their own lives, then people should just be able to read whatever they want without being judged for it. The world needs as many readers as it can get, not other condescending readers passing judgment on their choices.

Candace Pine serves as intern for Third Coast's managing editors.

Monday, January 25, 2010

Just a few more revisions and it’ll be finished…

by Nathan Norton

Yeah, all us writers have said it once or twice or thrice or umpteen million times about one piece or another. Who can blame you, though? You want it to be good. You want it to be moving, to inspire, to make readers set your story down afterwards and say, “My dear sweet God. I’m so very glad I consumed that nugget of literary brilliance.”

So the rest of us can’t blame you. Mostly because we’ve all been there. We revise, revise, revise, revise, only to look up from the computer screen to realize a year’s worth of suns has set on a fourteen page story. This is not the fast track to the writerly production train. In fact, it’s just downright unproductive. Don’t get me wrong, revision is important. Ridiculous amounts of important. But the danger of the revision process is that it’s comfortable. Nestled safely under the awning of the “finishing touches,” a writer never has to hear criticism not his own, never has to experience rejection, and never has to settle into the reality that yes, the story is done and it’s not getting any better. But what if that’s not good enough? Well, then your story is about as useful as mustard-flavored ketchup and you ought to try your hand at writing up another.

A finished story is a scary thing. Is it good enough? Is it, like the Army man, all that it can be? Annoyingly, a writer’s work is never finished in his own eyes. In every read through there’s something sticking out, be it a humdrum verb, a particularly and especially redundant adverb choice, a character name you suddenly wish was Jake instead of Jack, whatever. There’s always something. The rub of it is that there will never not be something. You, as your story’s creator, will never be finished. Get over it.

There comes a time when you have to let go of your story. A time when you have to say, “I suppose I’m pleased with this” and just set the thing down. Many times, a story is actually pretty good, but the author may think quite the opposite. This is an excellent, effective way of becoming completely obsessed with your piece. Don’t turn into the mentally creative equivalent of a petrified birchwood tree trying to make a single story your Magnum Opus. You’ll stalemate yourself and more than likely end up churning out pounds of useless verbiage because you want so very very bad for your piece to doted upon by literature buffs everywhere.

Revisions are absolutely necessary. Fill in those plot holes, make clear those blurry sentences, tighten loose paragraphs. But if you strive too hard for perfection, you may find that revision has become a crutch.

Writers can’t rely on revision. Many do, but they shouldn’t. Let trusted peer critics read your piece. Let your mom read it, let your significant other read it, let your mentally unstable Grandpa Jack read it and mention how “back in his day, revisions were done with some white paint and a piece of charcoal” and take their advice to heart. Make the necessary changes, but know this: run away if you find yourself continually revising. Beating the dead horse will just get you covered in flies, so freshen yourself up a bit by exercising your head on a new story. When you’re creative slate is clean, go ahead and read through that first story and see if you still feel the same about it.

It’s important that writers realize that revision ought to be done only as much as it needs and precisely no further. Fixating yourself on a story will often do it more harm than good. So after your first few revisions, stop and take a brain break. Remove yourself from a piece, and see what it looks like with fresh eyes.

Nathan Norton serves as intern to the Third Coast fiction editors.

Thursday, January 21, 2010

Blogging Series: From the T.C. Interns

Every fall, Third Coast takes on a handful of talented interns to aid in the production of the magazine. These interns learn valuable skills for working both in publishing and other real world occupations. Our interns are culled from the general undergraduate population here at Western Michigan University through a two stage process of both application and interview before the work even begins. They may have wrapped up the majority of their internship projects, but we are pleased to say they are still around and still working hard through the spring.

And so we are pleased to bring you thoughts directly from several of our talented interns. Their posts on topics such as revision, and the novel as a franchise will grace our blog in the days and weeks to come.

WMU students interested in the opportunity to intern should look for information to be posted in September of each year.