So I've recently done the unthinkable, seemingly insurmountable task of finally finishing one goddamn story amongst the dozens of failed attempts I've left malformed and half-finished along the way, like my own much less impressive version of Michelangelo's Hall of Slaves. I don't count any of the fanfiction I've finished (which even that number is dauntingly small in comparison to the sheer volumes I've started or thought of starting) because it's fanfiction, and reasons. But this is a real, totally original piece that I have thought of, written out, and completed all on my own. It hasn't been edited yet, and perhaps I should have done of bit of editing, or at least flushed out the rest of the narrative structure before letting my nearest and dearest see its raw, undiluted state. Because to be honest, it's not exactly a pretty picture yet. I've only recently been told of a huge glaring plot-hole that totally missed me, because halfway through writing the thing I had evidently changed my mind on something and never went back and fixed it. And as a writer I know I need to pull up my Big Girl Panties and deal with whatever sort of feedback I get from people, because no writer manages to gain unanimous approval and even my friends and family could end up hating this thing. I get that, and I promised myself I would take a few breaths before replying to any criticism and take it in the spirit it was (hopefully) meant: as an attempt to help me produce a better story. Which is why it seems like bad form to add any qualifiers to it before anyone reads it because I'm clearly biasing them in my favor, but I think it bears mentioning.
I wrote this particular story during NaNoWriMo (National Novel Writing Month, in November), which means two things, really: 1). There was no pre-planning or outlining the story before I started, not that I'm ever that thorough, anyway, and 2). I didn't edit as I wrote. So whatever random thought I had and then discarded thirty pages later? That thought is still in there, sitting around with a thumb up its ass because I changed my mind and never pulled it back out of the story. I would just like it if people understood that this isn't the "polished" version. This is not the manuscript I would pass out to publishers, or try and publish myself. I know this thing needs massive overhauls in some places, and a cleansing brush over pretty much the entire thing. This read-through is really just to gauge people's interest in a story like this, whether they think the plot is interesting, the characters fun and attention-gathering, whether they think it has any sort of mass-appeal. We can get into the nitty-gritty when I'm a little closer to publishing. Having said that, I've already gotten some feedback from people, some of which was a very no-holds-barred critique that in no way spared my feelings. Knowing the person who gave it to me, it wasn't really a surprise. Now here's where the rant comes in.
I'm not trying to get on a soapbox and demonize the friend who gave me this criticism because he's entitled to his opinion and to be honest, it isn't so much him that I'm frustrated with, it's the school of thought working behind the scenes of his comment. One thing he called into question was my use of narration and how it wasn't "right." It was too "biased" and should have been more distant from the characters and their emotions. Thing is, what he described is only one kind of narrative style, or Point of View. It just so happens it was one of several that I decided I didn't want to use. And that's where the real stinger is. Of all the things he critiqued me on, and there were several, which, fair game, the assertion that the narrative voice "has" to be anything is what struck the bullshit-cord with me. What the "Literati" (term coined by the lovely Thomas Shippey), don't want the public to know is that there aren't any "rules" to writing. There isn't a right or wrong way to do it. There are guidelines that are generally considered good ideas for a book to be popular, or even coherent, like having a plot, a protagonist, a goal to be reached, and maintaining some sort of POV or verb tense throughout. But even those guidelines get played with, bent to the author's purpose and vision. The first author to ever try presenting an anti-hero as the protagonist; how much shit do you think he caught? Oh, this protagonist isn't the virtuous saint we've all come to expect, ergo, you're doing it wrong.
Fuck that, I say. I'm not "doing" anything "wrong." These people are reading wrong. Instead of letting literature change their minds and open new ways not only of viewing certain ideas or culture, but more fundamentally, how stories are told, they just try and cram every book they read into the same "one-size-fits-all" box and get pissed if parts of it are stuck hanging out over the sides. As a woman who struggles regularly to buy clothes off the rack in almost any department store, I am qualified to say "one-size-fits-all" is a lie. It is crap of the dumbest, most ham-fisted order. If stuff doesn't fit in your box, expand the box. Or do away with it altogether. Or just draw an outline of the box in the sand and study how different stories operate within, around, or outside of those lines. Y'know, like a true goddamn scholar would.
This irritation has gone well beyond a writer being exasperated about an arrogantly-made comment on her work, and has ballooned grotesquely into a dismayed reflection on the Literary Elite and how regardless of the changing years and the shifting of literary movements and ideals, there will always and forever be that smug condescension of the people who "know better." The "Oh, I've read Aldous Huxely and George Orwell and George R.R. Martin, and I know what a book should be." And I don't mean to accuse my friend of being part of this Literati, but he is a result of this school of thinking; that just because a book is a classic or its popular, that the writers of such are somehow "doing it right," and they the reader have discovered the secret of writing by extension and feel qualified to let you know about it.
It's easy to know better when you don't have the balls to create it yourself. You try putting an intense amount of feeling and patience and thought and hope into something you love and then have simpering fuckwits sing-song "You're not doing it right" in your face. Oh that's right, you can't handle that sort of scrutiny. That's why you "know better."