Wednesday, April 21, 2010

Are Book Trends Killing Your Creativity?

When I receive posts from literary agent blogs I always check to see what’s hot and what’s not. One year it was boy wizards; then no one wanted any more Hogwarts lookalikes. Then it was vampires; suddenly no more vampires, please. Ditto werewolves. Currently in favor one finds angels (both good and bad varieties) topping the list, along with dystopian YA, and Swedish detectives and girls with tattoos. Zombies have held their own, with extra help from a few variations on a Jane Austen theme. Seth Grahame-Smith’s Pride and Prejudice and Zombies has a compelling first line: “It is a truth universally acknowledged that a zombie in possession of brains must be in want of more brains.” I just had to put that in. Back to the list—I think vampire hunters will break into the closed circle with Abraham Lincoln Vampire Hunter by (you guessed it) Seth Grahame-Smith. (Personally I prefer Hugh Jackman as Gabriel Van Helsing)

So, on the serious note with which I began … when you write, are you writing for the trends, or are you writing because you have passion for a story that must be told?

To be honest, Michael Crichton brought about this post. Yes, since I recently confessed to loving Clive Cussler’s rollicking adventures (along with his delicious heroes), I might as well go the whole hog and add Michael Crichton to my list of commercial fiction favorites. I really enjoy his blend of scary fact with even more frightening fiction. Jurassic Park farfetched? Well, now that nanotechnology is all the rage, who’s to say extracting dino DNA from flies trapped in amber gazillions of years ago can’t happen in the future? It was actually the sequel to Jurassic Park, i.e. The Lost World, that made me think about how literary trends might dictate writers’ output.

Here the bit that sparked my brain:

“I think cyberspace means the end of our species … Because it means the end of innovation … Mass media swamps diversity. It makes every place the same. Bangkok or Tokyo or London: there’s McDonalds on one corner, a Benetton on another, a Gap cross the street. Regional differences vanish. All differences vanish. In a mass-media world, there’s less of everything except the top ten books, records, movies, ideas. People worry about losing diversity in the rain forest. But what about intellectual diversity—our most necessary resource? That’s disappearing faster than trees.” (So says a character named Ian Malcolm, iconoclastic mathematician)

(The Lost World, Ballantyne Books, 1995, pg 339)

That was published in 1995. Have we disproved this author? Are writers turning out books at the rate of knots that explore a wonderful world of diverse, challenging, fantastic, and moving literary concepts and ideas? Or, when something becomes fashionable do people immediately copy it? Will there suddenly be a plethora of Swedish detectives and quirky tattooed female sidekicks following after the success of the Girl with the Dragon Tattoo?

The question I’d like to ask is: are writers brave enough to plow on with their original ideas, or are they bowing to trends? Of course, I’m not saying The Development of Knitting Patterns in the Outer Hebrides Since 1865 will be a bestseller, but what I am suggesting is that writers should have enough faith in their writing not to think, “Oh gosh, I’d better write a book about boy wizards/angels/demons/dystopia/vampires/Swedish detectives.…

The literary world needs unique ideas to continue to be fascinating and challenging. Let's not lose our intellectual diversity.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

I think trends only kill creativity if you're writing to imitate, if it's something forced and inauthentic. You have to love and believe in what you're writing or it will show.

If a particular story inspires you and your muse takes off, that's a different matter. But I think writers need to think about how their story is unique - what are they bringing to the table that hasn't been done before? (I have a joke with my writing students about adding "in space" after every idea. It's The Wizard of Oz . . . in space!)

If kids love books about wizards, they won't just read one and say they're done with wizards - they'll look for the next good book. But if there's a really popular book like H.P., then you'd better make sure your story is stellar. Those are some big shoes to fill. Myself, I love dystopian YA and am always looking for the next innovative idea.

All that said, I DO admit that I was praying for years that faeries wouldn't get overdone before my book came out. I didn't want to be seen as a copy cat. :-)