I’m listening to a radio interview as I write; it’s not the most restful or helpful thing to do when trying to write a blog post, but I’m working on improving my multi-tasking skills. So, let’s give it a go.
A bestselling author is being interviewed on the radio right now, a person whose works have been turned into huge blockbuster movies, and who has sold more books than I can even imagine. This particular author is not one of whom I am a fan; I’m not going to name any names, because that’s not fair. All I’ll say is: it’s not Dan Brown.
However, like the aforementioned Mr Brown, this author has a formula. The books this author produces differ only in the characters’ names, perhaps the time-period in which they’re set, and the degree of whiteness of all the people who appear on the jackets. This author writes books the same way a child would complete a paint-by-numbers drawing. Yet, right now, on the radio, this person is talking about the difficulty of constructing the plot and creating the voice of the novels; a discussion is going on about the complexities of creating characters and the exciting challenge of sitting down at the blank page, wondering where this (apparently) new and fresh plot is going to go.
Well, let me guess. It’s going to go the same way as every other book this person has ever written. The books may as well be churned out by a machine. I’m put in mind of Roald Dahl’s ‘Great Automatic Grammatizator’, and that makes me shudder.
If you produce the same story, over and over again, just changing the names each time, is it art? Or is the author just laughing all the way to the bank? Not that I mind a person making money from their art – that’s not the point. I’m talking about how a person can believe, truly, that they’re an artist or a creative person when they know that all their books are the same, and they’ve just been lucky enough to hit on the sort of story that people like to read. Or, is art defined by its audience? If you have an audience who loves your work and thinks every word you write is golden, does that make your work ‘art’? As I listen to this particular author talking about the creative process, and the challenges of creating art, I can’t help but think – this person is laughing at their audience. This person knows they’re not creative. Perhaps they can write – clearly, they can – but they don’t have ideas. They just follow the formula, and churn out the books.
I don’t believe this sort of writing is art. Something in me just balks at the thought. But then, I read books by authors whose work I passionately love, like John Connolly for instance, who writes supernatural-tinged murder mysteries. His books all follow a similar arc; they follow on from one another in a series; his main character (Charlie Parker) doesn’t change a whole lot from one book to the next. Yet, I love Parker as a character, I love the books, and I relish each new publication. You could almost say that John Connolly does the same thing as the other author – he has a formula, and he sticks to it. But, I think there’s a significant difference. Connolly has a framework upon which he builds his story, but the details differ from book to book. Each book builds upon the previous story, enriching it and deepening the mystery surrounding the recurring characters. The other author writes books which do not differ hugely from one another. It’s the same escapist, romantic fantasy time and time again. This author has had one idea, and is flogging it for all it’s worth.
Am I just being a snob? Perhaps I am. I feel very mean-spirited, even writing this blog post! I’m not trying to knock the successful author, or suggest that their success is undeserved. No doubt, this author has worked hard to get where they are, and I salute them. Successful authors mean more people reading, which is always a good thing. But I do feel uneasy with listening to them talk about their creative challenges when I don’t believe they really understand what ‘creativity’ means.
But then, who am I to judge? Perhaps the question of whether or not a piece of writing is ‘art’ is less important than ‘do people enjoy it? Does it bring happiness to an audience?’ I just hope there’s room for all types of writing, and readers enough to go around.
Enough of my negativity. Have a wonderful weekend, all! Go do some reading.