This week I was left a rather lengthy response to an older blog post about the average length of a novel. The comment was in reply to a comment I had made in response to one of the original readers of the blog post.
This new comment was longer than the blog post itself. And it basically boiled down to one writer, who has never been published, saying that fictional texts should be as long as it takes to tell the story at hand. The author of the comment was also worried about, “the notion that fiction must be one particular way, that there are rules that must be followed.”
Here’s the thing. If you’re trying to emulate James Joyce then you’re probably not writing with the intent of having lots of people pick up your text as something to gain enjoyment from. You’re the art for art’s sake kind of writer. You don’t really care about your audience – you just want to try and make your mark on the world.
Then you’ve got writers like me, and most of the people I know in real life who are writers, who write because they want to entertain people. And if some analogy winds its way into your text – it’s fine, it’s just your personal context reflecting in your work. You’re not worried about big ideas, you’re concerned with helping your audience explore a great, big, fat “what if?”.
Now, when it comes to popular culture it is kind of easy to quantify the kinds of story structure and tropes that most people like. That’s a part of mass culture.
It’s like knowing how much of each ingredient and what kinds you should or could include in making a box of chocolates. Obviously there is room for experimentation, but it’s going to be obvious what will put people off of eating that entire box of chocolates – too much sugar, or dog hairs.
Or, when you write to entertain people, it’s like being a comedian who takes stock of what works in their routines and adjusts accordingly.
At the same time, I personally have a degree of arrogance when it comes to audience perceptions of texts: I do feel that there are a lot of people out there that don’t understand how to tell a story. So, unless feedback involves solid technical reasons for why something I’ve written doesn’t work, then I’ll probably ignore it, and I’ll certainly ignore criticism if it’s based on not liking stuff due to cultural, social, religious or political persuasions.