Saturday, August 7, 2010

Genres and Romanticism

Growing up is kind of an odd thing. Much has been said on the subject, to be sure. Personally it’s been very freeing. I think when I was young my thoughts would go in loops and I couldn’t break free simply because I didn’t know how. I’m not saying I’m totally fine now and age won’t have any more seasoning to add :P Just that things are more firm now than they were before.

For a long time in my writing youth I was caught between the genres of fantasy and contemporary. I mentioned before that I used to write failed fantasy novels--that turned me off of working on them for a long time, and when I came to dA I naturally started writing contemporary, literary stuff, because that’s what the audience appreciated. Additionally, my mother, who reads most things I write because she’s an English PhD and I don’t pay enough attention to grammar, also strongly appreciates the contemporary genre.

But even while I wrote seemingly endless short stories in the contemporary genre, learning the craft of what made one story work and another flop, I was still conflicted because fantasy work was in my roots.

Part of the problem was medieval fantasy does little for me. I mean both that I don’t appreciate it very much and that I don’t write it very well. A few months ago I discovered Steampunk, via the novel Leviathan by Scott Westerfeld. This genre seemed to speak the language of my imagination, in a vastly superior way than medieval settings ever would. Now I’m writing my second longer work in the genre.

There’s a large part of me that’s still a literary elitist and wants every sentence to dazzle the last, but it doesn’t always work that way. In fact, it rarely works that way. Slowly, I have been forgetting my fascination with the elusive idea of beautiful, perfect images, one right after the other.

Recently someone commented on a short story of mine that, “All of your male characters are such diehard, hopeless romantics.” There’s something about contemporary fiction… the fascination with everyday beauty, like sunrises, and even the mundane--cigarette smoke, pots and pans, coffee pots. It’s a kind of romanticism, since generally the stories are about characters falling in love, already in love, or, more frequently, conflicted in love.

I think what appeals to me about the whole thing really is that aspect: love. It’s such a powerful topic because it can apply to so many situations, and even without ever having been in a romantic relationship, I have experienced betrayal, heartache, and the kinds of pain that go along with that, yet I am an idealist and maintain a belief in a kind of perfect agape love.

It can be a bit disheartening to think about how narrow my world has been for so long and how big my tiny anthills have been. One of the biggest words you hear at this age is “experience.” It’s hard when you have none to appreciate that, like anything probably. Not only is it achingly slow to acquire, but it’s not especially easy to find, either! In some ways it can be easy, but as such a huge definition, it’s quite difficult.

Luckily, I’m happy where I am right now. Writing Steampunk novels allows me to use my (limited, but intense) emotional experience and literally make up the rest, which is incredibly fun. Hey, it’s better than having to be a manic-depressive alcoholic in order to create!

Until next time.

2 comments:

benjamin said...

"There’s a large part of me that’s still a literary elitist and wants every sentence to dazzle the last, but it doesn’t always work that way. In fact, it rarely works that way. Slowly, I have been forgetting my fascination with the elusive idea of beautiful, perfect images, one right after the other."

would love for you to expand on this a bit; lots of contemporary lit. writers are creating purposeful 'unbeauty' if you will, dissonance, etc. and i feel like you're taking the elitism in lit. culture too narrowly. i think that what you're talking about, the beautiful modernist-poetic-type images, picturesque, i guess, is precisely romanticism and not in the least 'literary'. but i want to see what you have to say about it before i go making those kinds of judgements too! expansion, my friend, expansion.

Meredith said...

Yes, I should definitely research these terms. I think you're right, I'm totally talking about romanticism.

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