Friday, 28 December 2012

Congratulations, you're a sell-out

Today's post is about the line between accessibility and academia. Quite a wide margin, one might think. But the pitfalls are the greatest for the people who fall on one side or the other. So, what's the difference?

First, let's examine the difference between the Lord of the Rings and the Hobbit. The Lord of the Rings, as you may well know, is academia at its heaviest and least accessible. You can read it, sure, but its lumbering prose lulls you into a stupor faster than almost anything else. The lengthy musings on bloodlines and rightful heirs only serves to worsen things. I've read it, don't get me wrong, and I plan to read it again. It's just a bit more of a chore than I would like it to be.

Okay, so how does the Hobbit differ from this? Well, first off, the Hobbit is often described as a children's novel. Not that I think it detracts from the book at all, it simply means that the writing is a little more light-hearted and the story a little less gloomy. To me, this is a very good book. It may skim over the bad parts, and the story and characters may be a little underdeveloped, but it succeeds in what it attempts to achieve, and that is to entertain.

Now let's enter the other end of the spectrum entirely. Take a series like Twilight, or Fifty Shades of Grey. The two are interchangeable for me. The writing is in first person, description is almost non-existent.It focuses on an obsession with a single man - his life consumes the protagonist's existence. It's supposed to be a book one can slip in to - to be the protagonist, to forget she's even there. Simplistic writing (read: no big words) lets the less academic demographic, and the readers who are not avid readers, engage easily with the story. This expanded readership results in widespread liking for the novel, resulting in a cult following (or at least very high sales).

Before you consider writing a book like that and becoming filthy rich, observe the trends in the market. Since both Twilight and Fifty Shades of Grey, thousands of copycats of each have flooded the market, some of them vastly better than what came before. None of them have reached the cult popularity of the first. If you're going to write something, either make sure it's sufficiently set apart from the current obsession, or make it good. Really good. Maybe it's not accessible enough to create a cult following, and you may not get movies, but it will last a hell of a lot longer than Twilight.

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