Thursday, March 04, 2010

Culture and Motifs

I woke up this morning with the solution to a story issue I'd been wrestling with, so now I'm really looking forward to the "work" part of the day to see how it plays out.

I also woke up with a really strange mental grocery list because of a dream I had involving a frighteningly overstocked pantry, but that's beside the point. (And, if anything, my pantry is frighteningly understocked on everything but dried beans, pasta and chicken broth. It's the freezer that's overstocked.)

As long-time readers may have noticed, I can tend toward being overly analytical (no, really?) when it comes to fiction. I like analyzing things and finding patterns and meaning, and all that. I do it for my own work, and I do it for other people's work.

Which is why I loved this article by a Warehouse 13 writer on what he sees as the underlying motif and cultural appeal of the show. For those too lazy or busy to follow the link at the moment, he says that the warehouse itself, which is full of all kinds of random artifacts from throughout the world and throughout time, and which seems to be TARDIS-like in being much bigger on the inside than it looks from the outside, is like a hard-copy version of the Internet. In our current culture, we have instant access to everything, all thrown together, and that's reflected in the show, where the Studio 54 disco ball can interact with Lewis Carroll's mirror to create a crisis.

This apparently wasn't a deliberate motif. It was something this writer realized while they were looking back at the first season as they went to work on the second season. I think, in general, if you set out to make a statement or have a particular theme or motif, it will probably fail miserably. If you've got something to say, it's probably in your subconscious and will come out accidentally. You also can't always deliberately plan to have something hit the culture at just the right time. With Warehouse 13, I don't think anyone knew that what they had was just the right thing at just the right time. It was fluffy summer filler that turned out to get the highest ratings ever on that network.

With books, it's even harder to hit with the right thing at the right time. It generally takes at least six months, but more like nine months to a year, to take a book from completed manuscript to published book. The book is usually bought a few months before that, and written months to years before that (unless it sells on proposal and is written after it's bought). You're lucky if what you've written hits the editors' desks at just the time they're looking for that sort of thing, but then the editors don't know when they're making those decisions if that really will be the sort of thing people will be looking to read a year later.

My books didn't exactly hit a cultural nerve, so maybe I missed there, but I think a subconscious motif did end up being woven through my series. Charles deLint saw it when he reviewed the first book and focused his review on that theme, then mentioned off-hand that the book was also funny. Meanwhile, I was trying to write something funny that ended up having some depth to it. I'm not sure what the cultural trend will be next or that editors will see it coming (considering they're still mostly looking for dark and gritty, in spite of the way things are looking in TV ratings and at the box office). All I can do is write what I want to write and see if there's a market for it.

I do know that I totally got my mom with a scene-ending cliffhanger I threw in. She had to call to tell me I'd made a mistake, and I just told her she hasn't read the whole thing. That means I got a good twist in there. Hee. And now to get back to work ...

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