The past two posts have had some unifying theme. I haven’t managed to derive one from these three. (I blame it on my congestion from the exorbitantly high pollen count.) However, they fit well enough together, and placing them together means there’s only one more post about what Twain has to say about writing. So here we go.8. Crass stupidities shall not be played upon the reader by either the author or the people in the tale. 9. The personages of a tale shall confine themselves to possibilities and let miracles alone; or, if they venture a miracle, the author must so plausibly set it forth as to make it look possible and reasonable. 10. The author shall make the reader feel a deep interest in the personages of his tale and their fate; and that he shall make the reader love the good people in the tale and hate the bad ones.
I’m sure Twain had his own very specific idea of “crass stupidities.” What exactly poor old (for he truly was old when Twain was young) James Fenimore Cooper did to incite such contempt from Twain, I’m not sure–though whenever I discover it, I’ll let you know.
When it comes to what is plausible, it all comes down to the type of world the characters live in. An elf isn’t likely to walk down the streets of New York City–unless, of course, it’s Christmas Eve, opening night of The Hobbit, or the elf is named Buddy which is an entirely different story–but they are commonplace in other lands. Each world has its own parameters. Once those parameters are set, though, readers still usually don’t want surprises that come from thin air. Regardless of how “cool” it would be, Iron Man, ninjas, and Master Chief do not belong in my more-fantasy-than-not novel.
Number 10 is a difficult one.
The first half is always (as far as I’ve ever observed) true. When I as a reader stop caring about the characters and their plight, the story no longer matters to me. I usually close the book or turn off the movie. And if I don’t, I ridicule everything as I wait for the ending to finally arrive.
However, tales aren’t always as simple as “good” and “bad.” And sometimes we’re supposed to sympathize with the “bad” guys. Macbeth is a protagonist, and he turned out to be quite evil by the end. Yet I still cared about him and his fate. I knew he would have to face the consequences of his actions, but I didn’t want to see him killed. Going back to prior discussions (like this one by Anthony Lee Collins), not all heroes are perfectly good. And the villains aren’t always completely evil. It can be complicated. Very complicated.
What are your thoughts?