Thursday, May 20, 2010

Preconceptions

Preconceptions can be very good or very dangerous things in the world of fiction. When a reader jumps into a book they've never read, their thoughts are likely to color their entire view of the story. For example: if the reader hears rave reviews of that book, then they may begin their journey full of excitement, ready to be entertained just as much as the woman in the newspaper who, "...couldn't put the book down all night!" If the book is great, they walk away pleased, but if it falls short in any way, there's the danger that, not only will the reader feel disappointed, but they may never read anything else by that author ever again.

On the other hand, and I'll give an example from my own experience, I grew up in the culture that declared before the world that "Harry Potter is evil!" And while I never agreed with those people, (and my opinion of their deplorable treatment of the world-at-large is a looooonnnnnggg topic for another day...maybe), those thoughts still danced around the back of my mind as I picked up Harry Potter and the Sorcerer's Stone for the first time. I LOVED the book. And as soon as I finished reading it, I picked up book two...followed by book three, and as soon as four came out, I got THAT one.

When preconceptions are blown away in a proper manner, it can do great things for a writer. When I read a debut author, or a well-known author's first book, I go in expecting it to be only barely publishable. After all, they've never had anything else published. They're new at this, and they deserve the benefit of the doubt, but I expect the writing to be raw and devoid of a unique voice. When the books are as astounding as Storm Front, Dead Until Dark, or Soulless, then I can't help but look for more books by those authors. The proved to me that they are great at what they do, and even though the writing isn't "perfect", it's a lot better than I expected!

On the other hand, my because of my preconceptions, I'll probably never read The DaVinci Code. Not because of the "controversy" (which was only a controversy for Americans who don't study DaVinci...they already knew that stuff in Europe). I know what I believe, and a FICTION BOOK (Brown makes a point of telling the reader it's only fiction) won't change my beliefs. The reason I won't read it is because so many people who read it and could step back from the religion stuff all insisted that (and these are their words) it was one of the worst books they'd ever read. "The writing is atrocious," they told me. "He doesn't know his way around Paris, the plot is predictable, and the characters don't seem real. Even the scenery descriptions are bland." For a book that stayed on the bestseller lists for so long, that's not something you expect to hear.

Is this fair? Probably not. But it's still something we as writers need to consider. Regardless of the genre you write, it's important to know what the popular preconceptions are. Are you writing about werewolves? What's the theory on how a werewolf comes into existence? Will you stick to ancient legends (like the legend that only men can become werewolves, they can only be killed by silver, a female descendant of a werewolf might, just MIGHT, carry a cure to lycanthropy...and so on), or will you stray from tradition and create a new mythology? And will it be so different from what people are used to that it will only make them mad? That's only one example, and every genre, from mystery, to horror, to science fiction, has their own set of rules that, when broken, make readers angry unless they're done well.

Whew! That's a lot going through my brain this morning! What preconceptions have you had about books that turned out to be wrong? Was that a good or bad thing?

4 comments:

  1. Personally, I disagree with what a lot of people have said about Dan Brown's novels. I thoroughly enjoyed DaVinci Code; if you ever change your mind about reading it, let me know, I have the extra-fancy illustrated version and the art by itself is worth looking at as the story moves along. I also really enjoyed Angels & Demons, one of those rare books I stayed up all night to read from cover to cover in one "sitting." But that was a few years ago, so perhaps I wouldn't say the same now that I've got a book of my own floating out there.

    I don't really take into account whether a book is an author's debut or not, to be honest. I guess that stems from my ingrained belief that if a book was published it must have been publish-able, even though nowadays I'm far better informed about how the process works. I still think that, to a certain extent, but then I run onto a book that really turns me off (The Innocent Mage, The Wizard Lord, The Bastard King) and I lose a bit of confidence in the industry.

    As far as preconceptions go, I try not to have any. Even when I read Heroseed, I went into it knowing that the book had major problems but I fought to look past them and read on. What I find most hard is when I read a book and then watch the movie for a book (or vice-versa) ... it completely ruins both experiences for me unless the same amount of love and work is put into both (like Watchmen).

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  2. It's hard not to go into a movie or a book without preconceptions, though. Unless you seclude yourself from the world :) I try to keep any my mind clear, too, when I pick up a book or watch a movie. That way I'm less likely to get disappointed, and more likely to be impressed.

    However, our experiences affect how we see things, and if we have strong opinions about how something SHOULD be (like whether or not dragons should be able to talk), then that's going to change how we look at a book, movie, TV show, and so on.

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  3. Just as long as the dragon doesn't say, "RAR!!! I AM A DRAGON!!!" I think I can make my peace with the whole talking thing. It's not something I normally go after... just seems kiddish, like G-Force and every other creepy Pixar film where 3D animals talk... but I really need to stop ruling things out like that. UP was apparently a great film, despite its kiddish exterior, and I certainly plan to read Hilary's book when it comes out. It's just hard for me to take that first step.

    Honestly, on the movie/book thing, I need to force myself to do one or the other and NOT both. That will help preserve my sanity.

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