Wednesday, November 8

Baggage

I pulled this quote from Lydia Joyce's comment on Dear Author's "Should Authors Shut Up and Write" post:

Was I unrealistic because I didn’t not pound in the realities of Alcy’s situation, assuming that readers would take my book as I had written it, without hauling in the baggage of their past experiences in the genre?

"...Without hauling in the baggage of their past experiences in the genre..."

Is this possible? Is it possible to come to each and every book with an open mind, a completely clean slate?

I'm not so sure it's even remotely possible. We read with the hopes that every book is a keeper. Along the way we discover what works for us and what doesn't. I don't like amnesia books, but if a favorite author writes one, I'm willing to give it a try, but at the same time my past experiences and dislike isn't going to be easy to overcome.

What about when a character does something, well, out of character? Or a book goes in a direction we don't like? Are we going to embrace every book by the author or are we going to be leery of future books?

Isn't "baggage" on some level part of the reading experience??

15 comments:

Kat O+ said...

I thought the very notion of genre fiction is that they come with baggage. Authors attempt to divest of such baggage at their own risk. I can't give an opinion either way on this particular book because I haven't read it, but as a general rule, I think that if a sensible reader can't come to terms with how a character acts in a novel, it's quite possible that the reader is stupid...or the writing can be improved. But from a READER's point of view, it will rarely be the latter. *g* From a reader's perspective, there are ways a writer can explain these issues (if they so wish)...nicely or not-so-nicely.

What I just mentioned is totally different from just not liking a book because it didn't resonate with me, maybe as a result of the risks taken by the author. For example, I've read a few Judith Ivory novels and found them just passable, but not because of anything the characters did or of her writing - the storylines just didn't work for me. I think she wrote them well - and many people obviously like them - but I could only appreciate them intellectually and not emotionally.

Going in a direction I don't like is another matter. Here, I would have to rely on the writing. For example, I'm addicted to JR Ward even though she has included at least two scenes in her last two books that, out of context, would probably make me refuse to read them if I wasn't already familiar with her work. I should add that when this happens, the direction has to support the characters, rather than turn them into mindless plot puppets.

Kat O+ said...

Sorry, I meant...if a sensible reader can't come to terms with how a character acts in a novel, it's quite possible that the reader is stupid...or the writing can be improved. But from a READER's point of view, it will rarely be the former. *sigh*

Tara Marie said...

kat o+, if a sensible reader can't come to terms with how a character acts in a novel, it's quite possible that the reader is stupid...or the writing can be improved.

I have to think that if a reader is "sensible" they're probably not stupid. At least I'd hate to think of myself as stupid--LOL.

Bev (BB) said...

I've read some truly ridiculous comments over the years by both readers and authors but I have to say that the stuff Ms. Joyce is spouting literally takes the prize.

Tara Marie said...

Bev, I have to agree, she's a little out there. But take her out of it--is it possible to read a book without "baggage"?

Marg said...

I don't think it's possible. I always see echoes of other books in the books that I have read, and make comparisons of the heroes and heroines.

Bev (BB) said...

I seriously doubt that it's possible. We are talking about genre novels and reader expectations are too strong with any popular genre, not just romance.

The big reason, though, is that we are talking specifically about romances. I've read romances for thirty plus years. How could I possible leave those experiences of the genre behind in either choosing stuff to read or during the actual reading experience?

And even if I could, why in the world would I want to - unless of course that's the ONLY way a book could be appreciated, i.e. in comparison to nothing else.

Uh-huh. Right. Oh, don't get me started. ;p

Jane said...

It is impossible to go into a book as if you have never read a book before or as if you have no life experiences. We all do have bias, turn offs, turn ons, hot buttons, and predilections. To expect that those ingrained biases can be turned on and off at a drop of a hat is ridiculous.

Tara Marie said...

Marg, Bev, and Jane, My first thought when I saw the quote was "Huh!" I'm somewhat relieved I'm not alone in this thinking.

It's probably a sign of good writing/storytelling when an author can bring us our baggage.

Bev (BB) said...

Yeah, are they baggage or are they timeless themes, eternal myths, emotional truths . . . the list is rather endless. To think that a romance author doesn't want to tap into any of those is rather, um, startling, to say the least.

Kat O+ said...

To be fair, when she mentioned baggage, I think she was talking more about preconceived ideas of how characters *should* act. And while I admit to preferring certain hero/heroine archetypes, I like to think that I (and most other readers) approach each book with a relatively open mind and allow the author to make me believe in what she's writing even if it doesn't fit into my preferred scenarios. And I have to say, I've read many books like this, some of which have been keepers.

So no, it's not possible to approach a book without baggage, but it is possible to read it with an open mind. And it's the author's job to sell it to me. If it doesn't work? Well, I can tell you I won't be blaming myself! :-)

Meljean said...

"To be fair, when she mentioned baggage, I think she was talking more about preconceived ideas of how characters *should* act."

This is what I took away from that, too -- that she was saying: don't expect my characters to act in a certain way because another author's characters acted in a different way. But that's on an individual book level.

But I think in general, no, you can't approach a book without baggage. (Actually, in my head, all literature (and maybe all art, too) is a conversation and a reaction to everything that's been read/written before.)

In some cases, that baggage is a good thing, because when I see something contrary to my expectations, it's like a slap (and I like to be slapped.) But when something doesn't work -- and I have that baggage and other books to tell me *why* it doesn't work -- it's probably not so good for the individual book that I'm reading ... but it still allows that conversation and analysis to exist.

Hell, language at the level of words has significant baggage: connotations of class and education, negative and positive, etc -- so any work made up of words is going to have a hell of a lot of baggage.

Tara Marie said...

Kate and Meljean, I agree she was probably talking about preconceived ideas about behavior, and to be honest I almost said take her out and her book out of the discussion. I was talking about baggage in general.

But I do think there are behaviors, plots types, types of characters... that will trigger a reaction good or bad in many readers. Sometimes authors can make them work and sometimes they can't. JR Ward is a good example, she's romances rising superstar, but really we should hate her books, her books are completely filled with cliches. What is it in her storytelling that brings us past all the triggers that should be sending a book against a wall?

And, if an author includes these types of triggers should they work to overcome them, or are most authors in such a zone when the write that they don't realize they're including them in the first place?

Bev (BB) said...

JR Ward is a good example, she's romances rising superstar, but really we should hate her books, her books are completely filled with cliches. What is it in her storytelling that brings us past all the triggers that should be sending a book against a wall?


I haven't read Ward but this comment reminds me so much of discussions following Dara Joy's books when the first couple came out. People either absolutely loved them or totally hated them. There wasn't any middle ground as far as I could see. What was strange was that most hated them because of the writing but most loved them because of the stories. The only thing I can figure is that she probably isn't that good as a writer BUT, and it's a big one, the images and stories she was weaving caught the imagination because nothing similar had been tried before in romance. To put it bluntly, they were simply fun. Pure fun. And after so many of the dark books of the seventies and eighties it was like a breath of fresh air.

Now we're inundated with fun and I think the pendulum is swinging the other way to some extent. Which might explain Ward, et. al.

And, if an author includes these types of triggers should they work to overcome them, or are most authors in such a zone when the write that they don't realize they're including them in the first place?

I'm not sure it's a writing zone in terms of quality but I do believe it's one in terms of imagination. It's like something's bottled up in our collective conciousness that gets repressed while one wave in terms of types of books is going on. Then suddenly an author breaks with the pack, tries something different because that's what's in their head and the floodgates open for everyone else.

This is not always a good thing but it is fascinating to watch as an extremely interested, er, bystander. :D

CindyS said...

Okay, I commented on the most recent post without reading the comments here, ooops.

I do believe that I enter almost every book I pick up with an open mind. Yes, I want a keeper but I ready to go where the author takes me. I'm always on the look out for authors who take a different way or the path less traveled and I loved your comparison to J.R. Ward - I read differently in that I skip clothing descriptions after a while so the words that trip other people I don't see, I read over them.

Kresley Cole is another author who took an extreme Alpha man and paired him with a timid, fearful heroine. *I* should have hated it for sure but I loved it!

I like to be surprised. I don't want to be the reader or even the TV or movie viewer who figures it all out.

If she is saying that her characters will act like the cliches because that's historically accurate, well, I've read that. I want to read something fresh.

Reading about Bowstreet runners from Kleypas was refreshing because the heroes weren't rich men that all women wanted to marry.

I would like to read historicals from different eras. I love Medeivals but they are hard to come by.

I guess the deal breaker for me isn't just one cliche being used but back to back ones that make you as a reader know you have read the book before.

Throw in boring characters and I'm out!

Hope that was better than my other response ;)

Cindy