Today, the Dirty Birds are talking about Chapter 15 of Story Trumps Structure: Expectations.
Zoe: Just when I’d thought we’d lost Judgy McJudgerson, here he comes with his opinions on the literary genre. (Was that really necessary?)
Kate: Yeah, that was pretty sarcastic on his part. And not really necessary, but I think we’ve established that one of the weaknesses of this book is that Mr. James allows personal prejudices to seep into the text.
Zoe: So this chapter is about genre, which we know is a dangerous area with James. And he gets right off on the wrong foot with the first one he tackles: Love. He breaks down each “subgenre” (I’m using the term loosely) by what you’ll emphasize in that genre and what’s at stake. I have a question for both of you, and readers of our discussions. Is sex what’s necessarily at stake in an erotic story?
Ana: Hah, I saw this coming. When I read the chapter earlier today I thought, “This is what Zoe’s going to ask about!” Sadly I haven’t prepared an answer! I find it a bit hard to separate sex from everything else in the story. Even if it’s an erotic story, there should still be other things at stake.
Kate: The brain is the biggest sex organ. What makes an erotic story erotic is what it does to our brain. We talk a lot about unresolved sexual tension in the Erotic Romance genre. What’s at stake isn’t whether they’ll eventually fall in bed, but if they can make their emotional selves as compatible as their physical selves. And that’s the tension in UST.
Zoe: I think of sex as more the vehicle in an erotic story. The emotions (and vulnerabilities and such), to me, are what’s “at stake.”
Ana: I definitely agree with you there. I would say that the sex is a means to an end.
Kate: Or even an obstacle in and of itself.
Zoe: I think even with PWP (plot what plot?) stories, it’s not the sex so much as the satisfaction that’s at stake.
Ana: The character’s deepest desire being fulfilled or not, so to say. We still have that. Even in an erotic story, the character’s deepest desire is hardly ever ‘sex.’
Zoe: At the very, very least, the desire is to get off. Which happens through the vehicle of sex, but sex, again, isn’t what’s “at stake.” So…yeah, I think he handled that chart poorly.
Kate: I think it’s reflective of his unfamiliarity with other genres than the mystery, thriller, suspense ones.
Zoe: Yes, that becomes clear again when he gets to horror. At one point he says,
“The scariest stories aren’t always the bloodiest,” but then in his two charts, everything under horror is “GORE GORE GORE.” I think he understands horror almost as well as he understands romance.
Kate: I really want to see him write a romance. I really really do. If I’m a very good girl, do you think Santa would make it happen?
Ana: Haha, I don’t want to see that at all. Or maybe see it, but not be forced to read it. Although in the process of writing it he might actually learn some things…
Zoe: Kate can read it and give us the run-down.
Kate: There’s always the Substibook.
Zoe: From his chart in the “Love” section, I’m not even sure he understands “stakes.” For romantic love, he has “a long-term relationship,” but again, that’s not really what’s at stake. True love is what’s at stake. The potential of having to live your life without true love.
Ana: It felt to me a bit like ‘I don’t know what to put here, so let’s just put this. No serious writer writes romance anyway.’ (Zoe: :D)
Kate: *inarticulate noises* The last chart he put in? Did that drive anyone else around the bend?
Zoe: Yes. It’s a cross-referenced misunderstanding of, well…everything.
Ana: I couldn’t even read it. I do have a tendency to skip things that bore me. (Although it was fun to read “What will her blind date be like? Will he be someone she can trust?” in an overly dramatic voice in my head.)
Kate: I laughed at one point, where he said the crossover between romance and horror was the female MC finding her boyfriend in bed with another woman.
Zoe: That’s like the free square on the bingo card for him in genre ignorance.
Kate: The only excuse I could come up with for it was that he ran out of space and couldn’t show her morphing into some tentacled monster and having her revenge. And supper.
Zoe: I’m sad that he missed the obvious: “Her new high school boyfriend is really a vampire!” (Ana: The horror part is where he starts to sparkle, right?) (Zoe: That’s the part that always makes me hide my eyes, yes.) And my final complaint has to do with his warning against puns: “They don’t usually make readers laugh and they can backfire and distract from the story.” Tell that to Douglas Adams.
Ana: I had a sad, because I love puns. Especially bad puns. (And Douglas Adams)
Zoe: Me too. Wordplay is one of my favorite things.
Kate: Wordplay is a big part of our job. And a pun is often a quick way of giving a reader a breather, before making everything “so much worse” for the characters.
Zoe: And a really clever one works as an in-joke almost, pulling the readers who get it in. “Just ask a glass of water” will always be one of my favorite lines. (The lead-in, for those not familiar (how can you not be familiar???), is “”You’d better be prepared for the jump into hyperspace. It’s unpleasantly like being drunk.” “What’s so unpleasant about being drunk?”)
Kate: Now I want to go read Hitchhiker’s again.
Kate: So, this chapter, which had so much promise, essentially turned us from Dirty Birds, to Angry Birds. I feel the urge to launch myself at this book and knock down that chapter.
Ana: And because I’m still stuck in 2005 I don’t understand your pun.
Zoe: Poor Ana. Hopefully the next group of chapters—Continuity, Fluidity, and Polish—get back on a useful track.