I am Team Jacob.
I just wanted to get that out of the way, since that seems to be the most important social label right now. Yeah, werewolves are infinitely cooler than vampires, and maybe I’m biased because of Hugh Jackman’s Van Helsing. But that’s not why I’m Team Jacob. My wife is. And I’m with her. She prefers warm and furry to cold and sparkly. Okay, moving on.
I don’t know how good, or bad, Stephanie Meyer’s Twilight saga is, as far as writing goes. I don’t even know how good a story it is, really. I don’t even know how original the story is. Is she well-versed or well-read in vampire and other paranormal literature? No, and frankly I was surprised this story connected with her so much, because she’s not typically interested in the genre. What I do know is that I’ve seen the story connect with someone who’s intelligence I trust.
And this brings me to the ultimate point. It doesn’t have to be good. I just need you to like it.
The object of writing, to me, is not to write a great story, it’s not to create memorable characters, it’s not to make money. It’s for someone to read it. If you write something and no one reads it, on the most basic level, that to me is a waste of time. Even if you’re writing a journal, you’re not writing it then burning it. Okay, sometimes people write things and burn them as a sort of catharsis, but those people are weird. You write a journal so that you can go back and read it. And I would be remiss if I neglected the novelist who writes a draft, tosses it, and rewrites. That’s called editing, and it’s a different process. Regardless, you write so that it can be read at some point.
I really don’t think, at the end of the day, that Stephanie Meyer cares whether the book snobs like her books. I don’t think she cares whether or not Stephen King likes her writing. Scott Sigler may get a good laugh out of talking about her writing, but it doesn’t change her title: New York Times Bestseller. The only opinion she needs to worry about is that of her legion of bloodthirsty fans. See what I just did there? Forget it. Point is, she doesn’t have to be smart, funny, or have any intestinal fortitude regarding leaked manuscripts. She only needs to do one thing: please the reader. Be loyal to the consumer.
We could argue the merits of the consumer base for the Twilight series, but that would be like debating the differences between the audiences of Charlie Rose and The View. Pointless. Because now we come to the ultimate point of recognition for the consumer-pleasing author: money. I don’t want to be a novelist because I have an insatiable desire to exhaust my muse, and tap into my creative spirit to more fully understand myself, or some other high-minded psychological and metaphysical crap. I want to be a novelist because it’s fun, and I want to get paid for it. I don’t want another career, I want this one, and that means doing what it takes to get paid. So what does it take?
I don’t want to be misunderstood. Just because I don’t care whether Twilight is a good story or not, doesn’t mean I don’t think it’s important. People aren’t going to read a story if it’s bad, and people aren’t going to fall in love with characters they hate. By the same token, I don’t have to write a story or create characters the critics fawn over. What I believe makes a good story is resonance with the common man. It doesn’t have to be complicated, it just has to be meaningful. It is, of course, up to me to put as much work into it as possible. To hone my craft until it is as good as I can make it. To be well-read and study those who have mastered what I am trying to do.
Stephanie Meyer and Stephen King share things in common: they both write things that resonate with the common man; they both have loyal fan bases; they both get movies made from their books. King’s problem may be that he believes Meyer doesn’t work as hard as he does, or hasn’t refined her craft the way he has, and therefore he may think it cheapens his effort. It’s up to the author to decide how much effort they want to put into what they do.
The beauty of some of the most successful novel series, and film-adapted ones as well, is the ability of the author to avoid the trappings of complicated characters and intricate plotlines, and reach deep into the human psyche for a strong central theme. Can you write a plot that is constantly moving from beginning to end? Can you include enough conflict to hold a person’s interest? Are your characters human enough that we can identify with their struggles, yet heroic enough to inspire us to reach deeper? Can you keep it interesting and simple enough that it crosses social lines to reach a broader audience? These are the ingredients for lasting, meaningful stories. Point to any of the big ones that are embedded into our culture: Robin Hood, King Arthur, The Lord of the Rings and Star Wars, just to name a few.
Ultimately, what does this all mean for me? Very simply, I don’t need to worry over the quality of my work, I just need to put as much effort into it as I can. I should try to write stories that I think are unique, but I constantly worry that it’s not unique enough. I hear people discussing Science Fiction and Fantasy authors who come up with astoundingly original ideas, and I feel inadequate because I’ve never thought of anything astoundingly original. The worlds I create are a lot like ours. The characters I create are a lot like regular people. The plots I create are not phenomenally intricate constructs. Is this boring? I hope not.
I’ve learned that I don’t need to try and impress smart people with astoundingly unique and phenomenally intricate novels. It doesn’t need to be “good,” by the judgment of someone who considers themselves smarter than me. I just need an editor to like it. I just need readers to like it. I just want a movie producer to like it.
After that, it’s bestseller lists, red carpets, and angry letters from Stephen King.