Thursday, January 21, 2010

Slices Of Life

This post about acceptable topics to write about in horror fiction reminded me of a conversation I had with my creative writing teacher when I was in undergrad:

"Valerie, there are certain things that are just too unpleasant to write about. It's just the subject matter, you understand? Can't you just write about things you personally observe about the human experience? You know, just slices of life?"

"But sir, I thought I was writing slices of life."


  1. Wow. That horror piece may be one of the most naive things I've read in a long time. Oddly, I almost envy the dainty purity of her perspective.

  2. *sigh*
    And here all this time I thought fiction was a perfectly valid method of helping people to cope with "unpleasant" things.
    For one, writing about trauma is a good way for the writer to order his or her thoughts and work past the unpleasantness by putting it in perspective. This is a HUGE help to the healing process -- a complicated process that requires a lot of effort over a lot of different levels.
    Also, the sharing of the story may well help a reader put his or her own trauma into perspective, again helping with healing.
    And really, let's just call an apple an apple -- the world can be an incredibly unpleasant place and fiction helps us all to deal with it a little bit better, a little at a time.
    It's why people have been telling each other stories for as long as there have been people.
    Shit. We can't all have happy and romantic lives like, say, Romeo and Juliet, eh?

  3. You know, I fought against this particular mindset since I was in high-school. And sure, I'm well aware of how awkward stories can get when people put in disturbing plot lines just for the sensationalistic value. But we're talking about horror novels written for adults. It's like the time I brought my vampire novel to a publisher & he would only accept it if I edited out the disturbing elements and make it a traditional romance. It's a fucking vampire story! Vampires live off of blood and offal! C'mon, people!

  4. Of course, the next person that particular editor hired was Stephanie Meyer.

  5. My fiancée is a teacher in a middle school. She is the "sponsor" (read: head teacher in charge) of the girls' book club. This year, she alternates book club picks between herself and the girls, and they all read and discuss a book every two weeks. Well, the girls almost unanimously picked the Twilight series, which meant my fiancée (and one very stubborn student in the club) had to read three or four books (one a month), more or less against her will, to lead discussion over the past semester.

    My normally upbeat and cheerful better half would probably have rather read Johnny Got His Gun and watched a 24 hour loop of The Seventh Seal while having listened to This Mortal Coil in the background than go through any of that. And I, as the not so better half, got the dubious honor of hearing all about it (which, I have to admit, makes me very, very happy to not be a middle school teacher).

    So, I'd have to say that as long as it's not really bad writing, I really don't care what the subject matter is.

    With that being said, I hope the next tween reading fad comes on quick, and is nowhere near as obnoxious to bear.

  6. Anonymous12:19 PM

    But this isn't about putting shocking things in a story just for shock value, is it?
    You're talking about dealing with real human emotions and how (some) real people act,and turning that into fiction.(Correct me if I'm wrong.)
    Yes, it sucks, and yes, it happens every day, everywhere, and that's why we have to deal with it. WE. All of us. THAT is what fiction tells us.
    Turning a blind eye only makes these things worse, because it boils down to saying "It's OK. As long as it doesn't affect me, it's OK. I can just look away."

  7. I remember at one point in our conversation my professor used as an example of "sensationalist trash writing" a zine distributed on campus called "Anal Emissions" or something like that.

    "Isn't that horrible? 'Anal Emissions!'"

    And I just started laughing uncontrollably.

    Got a C in that class.

  8. Yeah, I found that high school writing classes actually killed my interest in writing. Especially fiction.

    I've seen and read so much on the internet that there's pretty much nothing that could "shock me". And half of it I just find hilarious.

  9. Also, not to discount the genre or anything, as it's not really one of my favorites. "Horror" isn't exactly meant for a gripping plot.

    Horror without the horror + plot = Suspense, which is something totally different really. I'm not saying ti doesn't have a plot, I'm just saying that's not necessarily the whole point of the genre.

  10. Ah. My mistake, the name of that zine wasn't "Anal Emissions." I think it was "Anal Fissure."

  11. Okay, now "Anal Fissue"... THAT is horror imagery!