Stephen Hise posted a really great question here about The Influence of Personality on Authorial Style – and it really got me thinking. I’m paraphrasing now, but Stephen’s (excellent) point was, as an Author – can you put your attitude towards the world into your Storyworld? (i.e. Optimist, Pessimist, Skeptic, Cynic or Realist/Pragmatist…)
It’s an excellent point! And – in my humble opinion, probably the most important thing about `Voice’ as a writer. But – I also think – it’s incredibly difficult to do—not in the execution but in the publishing.
Allow me to unpack that idea:
I’ve had fascinating debates with very smart, very talented writers, about the idea that some stories can be considered “mean-spirited”. Imagine a story where – all the `heroes’ die at the end, and – horribly. Does this mean, the Writer is “mean-spirited”? (A Pessimist, using the classifications above.)
Or – does it mean that the Audience is “mean-spirited” for enjoying reading it (or with a film, watching it) ?
Or – are they just Realists? It can be argued that, “the Good Guys Lose – and Bad Guys Win” most of the time in so-called `real life’ – which is why, novels and films are usually escapist fantasy, as very often, `the Good Guys Win’). Which is possibly why we like them so damn much.
Spoiler alert: I am thinking of films now, like The Blair Witch Project, Open Water, and Paranormal Activity, all of which are in the `Top 20 Return On Investment films of all time’.
So, is a Writer and even an Audience “mean-spirited” if, the good guys die? Or – just a realist? And does it make the world a worse place? Even more “mean-spirited” than it already is? (Assuming you think it is, and I don’t necessarily think so myself. I like the world. Nice place, but I wouldn’t want to live there.)
However, I have written various stories (novels and films) wherein ‘the good guys die’, though I am not a pessimist myself, in fact – I am certainly an Optimist (after 20 years as a professional writer, there is no other explanation).
With film, I’m not writing to promote a worldview—I’m writing to please an audience. People get anxious when you tell them via the `meanings’ in your Story, “Everything you know is wrong, also very-possibly – a stupid waste of valuable time.”
But – the Budgets of films – and the amount of stakeholders (producers, investors and often, random idiots) means you have to please the Audience, or whatever ‘the writing committee’ thinks the Audience is, and will like—as if anyone knows that in advance.
But with the novels, there’s much more freedom to put your own `worldview’ (or attitude as per Stephen’s categories above) in there.
Though I’ve written vast amounts of stuff (people often comment on my prolificity) I have never consciously set down “my worldview,” as the trouble is, if it’s in a plot detail, it’s just as likely – an Editor (or a Producer with films) will say “Hey – that’s a real `downer’ ending, change it to `upbeat’ dude, that’s more commercial” – Which is actually kinda stupid, as – when you look at those Top 20 ROI Films – ie – the most successful stories (in terms of `Audience Numbers Reached – divided by their Budget’) nearly all are actually `Villain Triumphant’ stories.
I even often argue (when I am in the mood for a fight, or whatever) that Star Wars (1977) is a Villain Triumphant story – as Darth Vader gets away – and then kills loads more people in The Empire Strikes Back, Return of the Jedi, etc. Since that is one of the most successful films, is the whole world mean-spirited, Pessimistic? Or are they Cynical? Clearly – The answer is `Yes’, as a mathematical proof.
YES – the Author can put their `Attitude to the Universe’ (in terms of – those 5 categories you list above) into their Story Plot and thereby – capture their worldview/attitude/viewpoint – and that it is also therefore their `Voice. ‘ However while I would LOVE to be able to look at some of my favourite novels, and say that they “capture the Author’s philosophy”, (eg say, maybe Don DeLillo’s `White Noise’), I also can’t really make a `final call’ on that until I hear about exactly whether the Editor/Publisher changed the plot at all (eg `forced a happy ending’ on it)…
I did like `Generation X’ and `Fight Club’ for the Pessimist/Optimist dichotomy. I personally would describe them both as Realist, but – others have described them as both Optimistic – and still others, as Pessimistic novels.
I like (and use) those categories Stephen mentions – and I have summarized about 20 other ways to classify ‘personality types’ in my free Writers textbook. You can find the (free) PDF in the Interview here. (My Screenwriters Workbook, though – it very much applies to novels as well)
But – anyway, I want to say, what a brilliant and fascinating question Stephen, thanks for asking it. What does everyone else think? Cheers!
Joe T Velikovsky works as a Transmedia Consultant and as a Script Assessor for the Writers’ Guild. He writes a blog at http://on-writering.blogspot.com/. Check out JoeTV’s latest novel A Meaningless Sequence of Arbitrary Symbols. Find Joe’s book page page`AM SO AS’ on Facebook.[subscribe2]