Monday, March 13, 2017

Three Seashells: The Dangers of Not Backing Up Your Details

There was a post earlier today, in which a friend ask (begged) to know how the three seashells are used.

For those who don't know, the three seashells are what replaced toilet paper in the future in the 1993 Sylvester Stallone film, Demolition Man. The main character expresses confusion about the seashells and all the future-people giggle and comment on how he doesn't know how to use them. But it is never revealed how they are used.

24 years later, people are still trying to figure it out. Demolition Man was a good movie, but not great, so why is it that a throw-away entertainment flick has this effect?

Like a crappy cliffhanger ending, people are left wondering about something that should have been neatly tied up in the course of the plot. It isn't a big thing, but it's the thing that can make or break the perception of a work. It happens the same way when a TV show is cancelled too soon, or a sci-fi franchise makes up a technology that they don't adequately explain.

It's the reason authors need to research so much for small details. If we get them wrong, we risk creating the three seashells.

People remember Demolition Man, in part, because of the seashells. But it isn't a good way to remember it. We remember that there was this simple thing that probably wasn't supposed to be answered, or answerable, and the thing left us hanging. The seashells stole the movie away from the action (decent), speculation about the future (ironic), commentary on society (way deeper than it should have been), and more.

Instead of being lost to time or gaining a cult following for the symbolism, it is reduced to a question: What about those damn seashells?

Having a real reason for the seashells and addressing their use enough to have it make any kind of sense would have solved that. And it is important to remember not to leave the seashell question unanswered in other works of fiction.

You don't want your hard work remembered because of a bathroom joke gone wrong, do you?

Monday, March 6, 2017

Genre Fiction vs Mainstream Fiction: Why do I like Genre?

I am a thinker.

This isn't some kind of elitist statement. Sometimes, I go over in my head the exact way to make a roux or knead bread, or any one of a dozen menial tasks. Sure, I've also thought about black holes, free radical quarks, and the socio-economic effects of multiple religions on evolution for an alien species, but most of my thoughts are going over and over what has happened to me and what I am planning to do in the near or distant future.

I am a thinker. I live inside my head, first, and in the physical world only secondarily. Because of this, I analyze and over-analyze my own motives, as well as the motives of others. I'm pretty good about getting it right, too.

I recently read some short stories, contest winners and things with rave reviews. The thing I noticed was that, when genre is opened for a contest, mainstream fiction - literary fiction - gets picked nearly every time over genre fiction.

I get it. Literary fiction is supposed to be better, more intellectual, more elite. All around, you are a better person for liking literary fiction, we are told.

I hate it. And I'm pretty sure the two points above are connected.

Literary fiction has a distinct tendency towards living in someone else's head. The story isn't based on what happens so much as how the main character perceives what happens. Character growth is shown in the subtle change to how they think about a situation, while the actions are usually just everyday occurrences - drinking coffee, making supper, etc.

Genre fiction, on the other hand, is the action movie version. Stuff happens. Big stuff happens. Thoughts are often (but by no means always) secondary to the actions of the characters. Changes in thought and perception are shown in behavior, not in the stream-of-consciousness going through their heads. A barbarian shows growth when he throws down his sword, showing mercy when before he would have killed.

I'm a thinker. I spend most of my life living inside my head, analyzing my thoughts, speculating on the thoughts of other people. To me, literary fiction is like having my mind reflected back at me. Genre fiction allows me to speculate, to read into behaviors, to explore perceptions and presumptions.

I hate literary fiction. It isn't an escape for me. It isn't a new look into someone for me. Mostly, it makes me feel nauseous and fuzzy, like I've spent too long looking into a mirror that reflects another mirror.

Now, if that mirror has a genie that grants wishes trapped inside it...